Free Wifi

Being a geek, and a developer/sysadmin by trade I sometimes forget how regular people’s brains work. I mean I sort of get that they view technology as magic that can only be understood by unattractive an unpopular people. That element of their belief system is clear to me. What I forget is that their whole world view is wrapped around and corrupted by their ignorance. For example this is a conversation I had with my co-worker the other day:

Me: So, did you get your internet hooked up yet at your new apartment?
Her: Nope, I get Free Wifi.
Me: No kidding? Is it like a municipal thing?
Her: Nope.
Me: So what then?
Her: I think it belongs to one of my neighbors.
Me: Oh… So in other words you are “stealing” it.
Her: It’s not stealing! Besides, you steal movies and video games on the internet all the time and I’m not saying anything about that!
Me: Me? Never! Besides it’s not steeling – it’s copyright infringement.
Her: Yeah, right! Same thing.
Me: So what are you going to do when they learn to lock it down?
Her: They won’t. And if they do, there are like 5 other un-encrypted Wifi networks in the building. I’ll be fine.

The moral of this story is that you should always encrypt your Wifi and set your ssid to be something like “” to scare away persistent bandwidth leeches. But that’s not really what I wanted to point at. Did you notice the following logic:

Downloading Movies == Theft
Using someone’s Wifi != Theft

That’s sort of backwards, isn’t it? Unlike copyright infringement which while morally reprehensible is definitely not theft (neither morally, legally or semantically) leeching on someones wireless connection can definitely be viewed as such. After all, there is a reason why we call it bandwidth theft. Most of us have unlimited bandwidth contracts with our ISP’s but in some parts of the world people still have theirs capped and metered and can’t go over some quota. Your connection would count against their quota and any overages would be paid out of their pockets. In the world of unlimited bandwidth there is no danger of incurring overage charges but you are still using bandwidth that someone else paid for without permission. If they are for example trying to play Counterstrike online, while you are downloading bunch of torrents you will doubtlessly clog up their intraweb pipes (internet is not a truck kids!) and introduce lag.

In other words, leeching is much more like theft than copyright infringement could ever be because you are actually depriving someone of something they paid for. It is still not actuall theft in a legal sense of course. It probably falls under “unauthorized access to a computer system” but IANAL. Perhaps a real lawyer can clarify this for us. Either way, I personally view it as much more serious and actually damaging activity. While the concept of “lost sales” is a complete fiction, loss of bandwidth due to a leeching neighbor is very real, and very tangible (page load time, lag and etc).

The polite thing to do is to knock on your neighbor’s door and tell them they have an unsecured Wifi network. I know there are people out there who actually purposefully leave their networks open, and do not mind sharing their connection (Bruce Scheiner is one of them). Most people however simply are too stupid to set it up properly. But if you help them out and set it up for them they may be nice enough to let you leech until you get your own internet connection, or maybe will be happy to simply split the bill with you.

It seems that the cancerous message spread by RIAA and MPAA is actually working. People have been brainwashed. My coworker for example thinks nothing of leeching Wifi from their neighbor (a real person they see almost every day) but balks at infringing copyright of some huge corporation. Sigh… I remember a time when it was the other way around and people would stick it to the man, and help their neighbors. I guess that this time has passed and we have other priorities now. Priorities such as OBEY, CONSUME, WATCH TV, BUY, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP… ;)

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13 Responses to Free Wifi

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Leaching? I thought it was spelt “leeching”

    According to the almighty Google, leaching is the process of extracting a substance from a solid by dissolving it in a liquid. Whereas leeching is… not defined… fuck, I really should have checked that out before I started typing.

    On the other hand, Urban Dictionary lists leeching as “To download without giving anything in return, esp. a huge file. To suck (bandwidth) dry, as a leech would.” A clear and entirely unambiguous win for Matt` I think :P

    On the actual topic at hand, it is kinda sad that people would sooner “steal” from their neighbour than a big corporation, but then again, corporations have lots of lawyers and money, and laptops are almost never configured to automatically connect to a torrent…

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Matt`: I think you are right. I think leeching term is derived from the name of that blood-sucking worm which is spelled “leech”. So I corrected my spelling here. :)

    Stupid spellchecker probably confused the two. :P

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  3. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You know, while you might scare some leeches with making your ssid, you might attract the wrong attention to your network.

    also, since we’re on the topic of spelling, its not Phising its phishing.

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  4. Google and firefox spell it phishing…

    I don’t feel bad for people who are wifi jacked… You dont leave your keys in your fararii in Compton and expect it not to get stolen… Ignorance is no excuse… Although what I would love to see is more cities going open wireless. Personally I used to have a cool set up that would allow computers 30 MB than kick them off for an hour except my computers of course that keeps my bandwidth mine… But is still free and open. It was a while ago I don’t remember what the firmware was to do that and what device it was on

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  5. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Phishing is something else; that is when you try to fool people to give up authentication credentials by faking an authentication. Regarding “Leeching wifi” vs. “Leaching wifi”, Google give about 10:1 to the former.

    But seriously, leeching is now “like stealing”? I suggest staying away from newspeak, and just ask the central question: is leeching wifi bandwidth more or less moral than copyright infringement? And the answer to that is, of course, entirely subjective.

    As always, regular lusers couldn’t care less about the finer technical details. I think they just form their opinion from the “typical punishment” you can get. And my personal impression is that you currently are worse off being convicted for downloading than leeching; in fact, it seems our legal systems are still unsure if leaching from an entirely unprotected network really is a crime. I think it has to stay that way, because otherwise it would be many harsh punishments to hand out to all those poor tech-challanged people with new laptops that are pre-configured to automatically connect to such open networks.

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  6. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I would point out that it shows how retarded our legal systems are, technology speaking. It also shows the low understanding of basic ethics by most people in our societies. But that’s another topic, for another type of blog, I guess.

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  7. It shouldn’t be a crime and we need more public wifi spots…. Is war driving still popular?

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @ZeWrestler: Heh, I didn’t even notice that. Oh well, at least I didn’t spell it “pissing”.

    And yeah, in retrospect, using as a SSID would probably be like an open invitation. Kinda like using “I bet you can’t hack me” as SSID. :P

    @Tino: True, it is still not equivalent to stealing. In my mind however leeching is more “like” stealing than copyright infringement because you take away something of value (bandwidth) from someone else.

    I’d put both of them in a gray area, but I would argue that leeching is more harmful because the loss of bandwidth and degradation of service for the legitimate user can be easily proven and illustrated.

    The damage caused by copyright infringement on the other hand is hard to calculate. On one hand you have the very shaky guestimate of “lost sales” which is based on a purely statistical speculation. You can’t say exactly how many people pirated your product, and how many of the pirates actually did not already own it (pirating to bypass DRM), or did not buy it afterward (pirating for an extended demo). All you can go is guess.

    On the other hand you have the rarely mentioned benefits of piracy: it is free advertising and publicity. It builds your fan base/user base. It allows you to reach niche markets you would not have reached otherwise.

    So again, it is a tossup. Which one is worse, depends on your point of view. The little that I do, I release under GPL so I never actually experienced piracy on a personal level. I do not make living out of my “intellectual property” – I make a living by providing a services like software development and maintenance. I just don’t see myself ever developing a proprietary product and trying to sell it.

    So yeah, both are unethical. Leeching is more personal though, and more directly harmful – as in you can see the damage in real time.

    @travis mccrea: We definitely need more public hot spots. And stuff like municipal wifi.

    I don’t think war driving will ever become not-popular. :P I liked your 30 minute idea. Temporarily using someone’s network – especially when they leave it open on purpose is probably not so bad. It is leaching from your neighbor on a daily basis that I don’t like.

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  9. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    A fully open access point suggests the neighbor lack the technical skills of a typical heavy internet user. If we talk about a leecher who reads emails and surf the web (rather than queuing up torrents…) the discussion is likely about surplus bandwidth that would be “lost” anyway. So I’m not so sure there is such a big practical difference after all; I do not see any significant degradation of service in this case. But sure, it definitely is not acceptable behavior for a paladin :).

    The little that I do, I release under GPL so I never actually experienced piracy on a personal level.

    Don’t be so sure. What if your work is distributed right now in violation of the GPL by Big Corp. in their expensive closed app that they sell to governments of the third world to deprive starving children from money? (Won’t anyone think of the children?!). Are you fine with that? According to a similar analysis you do for file sharing, you should be fine, because you are not loosing any money on this. Personally, I think the important moral line here goes between “personal use” and “commercial use”, but I also understand that not everyone agrees with that view.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Tino: My first reaction would be:

    “LOL! The Big Company™ is using my crappy code!”

    followed by:

    “Fucking hypocrites!”

    Would I lose sleep over it? Probably not.

    Would I slam them for it on the blog? Definitely yes, because it would make for an entertaining rant. Also, it would be kinda ironic to catch a big company that uses DRM to prevent piracy to rip off a GPL project.

    I probably wouldn’t sue, but I wouldn’t mind making them some bad publicity.

    Oh, and if a Big Company™ swiped code from a non-GPL project then calculating damages would be trivial. It would be # of sales x licensing costs for that piece of code. It is clear cut.

    The lost sales principle is still fuzzy.

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  11. The web is supposed to be a free place with very limited cooperate interfearence (although the .com boom did bring amazon and eBay… And if google didn’t get that money that investors were going to put in excite the WORLD would be different). Free open source code and web… It’s why I refuse to pay for software and love ubuntu

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  12. jambarama UNITED STATES K-Meleon Windows Terminalist says:

    Theoretically I think there is little difference between the two actions. I won’t go into it, but basically person A is benefitting from person B’s investment, but B has no way to capture the value from A. The copyright holder isn’t able to extract money from the infringer – the pirate may unwilling/unable to pay for the commercial item, or maybe there’s just no way to pay for it. Using Wifi is similar – the owner has no way to extract money from the user, and the user may be unwilling/unable to pay.

    I try hard not to infringe other’s copyrights – through piracy or any other way – but I am willing to leave my wap partly open. Thanks to DD-WRT (also possible with tomato), I leave a portion of my wap open (capped at about 10% of throughput capacity), and a portion of it closed (wpa2-psk for myself). I’m happy to share some bandwidth with a needy soul. Several times, I’ve been grateful when someone else left their wifi open – when I first moved in to my last two places, when I was lost & needed a map, etc.

    It doesn’t harm me any for others to use some of my excess capacity, and since I have the open section capped, no one can load up with some torrents & drop my router. Non techies can do the same thing as I have by just buying a fonero router.

    If I notice someone outside my place, sitting in their car with a laptop more than once – I’ll switch it off for a while. I think it is also worth noting that Bruce Schneier leaves his wap wide open, despite being a security guru.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @jambarama: I do have WAP in place and don’t share it with strangers. The bandwidth is shared between me, my brother and my cousin and we are all do a fair share of torrents and bandwidth consuming stuff.

    Needless to say the threat of:

    “Dude, shut off fucking torrents or I’ll kill you! I’m trying to play [insert game name = usually Battlefield, CoD or something like that] and it’s LAG CENTRAL!”

    get’s thrown around in this household a bit. I do think that it is great to open it up for strangers in need. I actually don’t mind occasional use of an open Wifi node when you are in need – like you said, you are lost and you need a map or etc. I’d consider opening a portion of my bandwidth for stuff like that.

    It’s the permanent leeching that irks me – you know, the people who think they can save money by using their neighbors network without permission for months, or even years on end.

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