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Social Wi-Fi and Privacy: Keeping Balance in the Force

by Sean Blanton on May 8, 2014

I read with interest Lee Badman’s article in Network Computing: Social WiFi Sign-In: Benefits With A Dark Side. Despite the gloomy title, the article is a fair and balanced look at both benefits and privacy implications of social Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi-Loyalty Would you join a loyalty program to get a coupon?

Perfect timing, I said to myself. Facebook just announced that they will be adding new functionality to their OAuth capabilities which would allow users to access any service using Facebook OAuth anonymously. This is obviously in reaction to the ongoing privacy conversation across the entire Internet spectrum. And it just so happens that we at AirTight released a blog post about it on the same day as Lee Badman's article ran: Facebook ‘Anonymous Login’: What Is the Impact on Social Wi-Fi? We've maintained since the beginnings that Social Wi-Fi should allow an anonymous path for any user who does not want to engage on social media.

To share or not to share?

I agree that in some cases is not worth to share our social data for the service that we’d get in return. And when it comes to Wi-Fi in particular, using social media as a means to enter can seem overbearing to some.

But the fact is that for others it is perfectly natural.

Remember that while mobility is fairly ubiquitous in our society, it very much skews to millennials who (like myself) are getting older and expanding our interactions beyond school and home. I'd argue that free Wi-Fi and a dessert coupon in exchange for my name, age and city is a pretty sweet deal, and I'd be excited to see what other places I frequent would provide me with a tailored experiences instead of generic, seemingly unhelpful ones.

Social Wi-Fi shouldn't use OAuth as a paywall – it should be used as an invitation to share data in exchange for a something that will benefit you. It's part of the new social contract that exists in our Internet world.

However, if somebody wants simple wireless access, not an "experience", then yes, they should have it. That's specifically why we made the "Clickthrough" option. It completely bypasses any social media OAuth and plants you on the Wi-Fi network like it was any other basic network. Not so social? No problem.

Wi-Fi as cost of doing business?

Yes, it's fair to say that enterprise Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly more affordable. However, someone (the establishment) has to cover the installation and the on-going broadband costs. IT budgets in many industries remain thin, and if you throw in the tight margins of most retail/restaurant/hospitality groups then even sub-$500 AP can be a stretch.

But despite that, the cost is always a poor argument and not one that will ensure you get your hands on the best solution possible. It's much more productive to recognize the growth in mobility, connectivity, social media use and the need to be dynamic and engaging with your customer base when planning for a Wi-Fi network. You can also get your operational needs covered, such as training, mobile POS, inventory management, etc. If other business units outside of IT have a stake in the system (and thus ownership in its success) then sub-$500 can be a real steal. We see it again and again in our customer base – when IT partners with store operations and marketing, Wi-Fi initiatives move faster.

Consumers have choices

Privacy is always a choice, and we believe in giving users options on how they sign in. But at the end of the day, the business is providing a service, and they decide how and when to offer it. The users can also choose to stick with their mobile data plans – this option is always open.

See also:

Would you share your social profile in exchange for a coupon? Should businesses provide free Wi-Fi, no strings attached? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Topics: Privacy, Retail