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This Privacy Policy Forced Users To Give Up Their Kids For Wi-Fi

And people said yes.

This Privacy Policy Forced Users To Give Up Their Kids For Wi-Fi
[Photo: Flickr user Bethany King]

Earlier this year, a coworker told me about a strange vision. In a moment of fantastic reverie, she told me that she saw all of her Gchat conversations trailing behind her everywhere she walked, visible for anyone to see.

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I shuddered. The idea nearly gave me a panic attack.

But perhaps it was divine guidance. It’s actually really easy to hack into someone’s email account over public Wi-Fi networks, as researchers from security company F-Secure demonstrated last week. It was so easy to take advantage of people, in fact, that the same researchers were able to get some people to sign over their first born children just in order to go online.

In order to show just how gullible we all are, F-Secure asked technologist Finn Steglich to build a mobile, public Wi-Fi hotspot (which he did, with freaking rubber bands) that allowed him to watch data flowing through the network. The information included email addresses and account passwords, all readily available for Steglich to snatch. They set up the trap in Canary Wharf, London’s financial center, and then directly in front of the Houses of Parliament, where they started collecting free data from unsuspecting passersby.

In total, 33 people signed onto the network. But six also signed over their first born children. At the experiment’s first location, F-Secure made a terms and conditions page that users checked off before they logged on. It stipulated that “in return for free wi-fi access the recipient agrees to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity.” Or a favorite pet, if the kid wasn’t available.

The experiment supports something we’ve all known about for a while: No one reads the privacy policy. But that kind of unconsciousness is also exactly what allows the telecommunications industry, various apps, social media platforms, and third-party trackers to exploit user data and create new vulnerabilities. The conclusion of the report, which was supported by Europol, the EU’s fairly savvy law enforcement agency, calls for Internet service providers to be more transparent, for regulators to get their act together, and for people to protect themselves. Turn off Wi-Fi if you don’t need it, only use trusted networks, and maybe consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you feel the need. But why should we have to?

h/t IEEE Spectrum

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About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data

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