Public wifi access, free internet of sorts, has cropped up in many coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels. This week we take a look at public wifi in hopes of learning more about the security, availability and convenience:
1) Public wifi security is almost nonexistent in restaurants, schools and motels. People who spy and hack know this, too. When the security warning flashes on the screen, it’s your iPhone reminding you of this. What does it mean? It means that someone who makes the effort can see what you’re browsing. Do you care that they may get access to your private chat messages or bank info? Yes. Do you care if they know you’re reading this? No. Respond accordingly.
2) If you need a secure network, you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
3) You can and should change your settings so your iPhone doesn’t automatically connect with any random/nearby wifi if you’re concerned about security. Or...
4) When you know you’ll be sending personal or financial information, only use a fully encrypted website or use your own iPhone’s data network--for example, if you’re shopping online or accessing your bank account.
5) Some coffee shops are limiting wifi, since many of the wifi consumers aren’t actual patrons, just seat hogs with laptops who ask for free water. Others have sealed off the power outlets. They do this because they can’t afford to run a shop without business.
6) Some places shut the wifi off at regular intervals, to disrupt the freeloaders who stay for hours, or shut their wifi off altogether, citing that they don’t have people who come and stay all day anymore, because they no longer offer a ‘virtual office’ space.
7) Jeffrey Young, industry expert, says that larger chains, such as Starbucks, free wifi is a given. “It’s part of the customer experience that you just have to deliver.” But, he acknowledges, smaller shops have their own dichotomy when it comes to wifi.
8) At least one coffee shop has embraced the concept of being an office. Timberyard in London has a dedicated workspace in the basement for member’s only--individuals and groups who have signed up on a contract basis, much the same way one would join a gym. Now they have whole teams who work in the members’ space, says Darren Elliott of Timberyard.
9) You can use the Personal Hotspot on your iPhone to connect your laptop to the internet in Settings>Personal Hotspot>On. You have to create a password, and then choose your phone from your laptop in its wifi settings (enter the password you created)
10) If your iPhone won’t connect to the network, sometimes the solution is as simple as deleting all the previous wifi networks stored in your iPhone (Settings>General>Reset), or turn it off (slide) and turn it back on. Do not delete all the previous wifi networks if you don’t remember/can’t get the passwords for the ones you need!
While most people who have an iPhone have wifi at home, or at least a phone plan, there are those who don’t have either. For them, free wifi is a godsend.
“I can’t really afford wifi or a cell phone plan,” says Ryan C., who asked that we not use his real name. He uses free wifi to keep in contact with his family in Wisconsin through social media. He says he doesn't always have the money to pay for a coffee or snack in shops with free wifi, so he doesn't go inside and take up one of their paying customer seats.
Realistically, though, it’s unlikely that many people would be willing to give up their home wifi and cell phone plan, although that may be a topic for another day.