Friday, June 20, 2008

Free or Felonious?

Brooklyn Wolf put up an interesting posting regarding the copying of CDs and other copyrighted material. How About Just Because It's Not An Ehrlich Thing To Do? I'd like to expand on that in a different direction. Let's call it the Wifi problem.

There are any number of nifty little electronic gadgets around that have Internet and/or text messaging capabilities. They all require, however, that there be some kind of connection to an Internet Service Provider. Some of the gadgetry comes with that connection as part of the package price. Others require you to purchase a service contract separately. And that's where things get interesting.

Wifi (or Wi-Fi if you prefer), unlike other types of Internet service, is "wireless." Those who provide Wifi have a bit of a problem. Not only do those who pay for the service get to use it, but also people who are in the direct vicinity of a paid subscriber's location can also use it, without paying for it. So the question arises as to whether or not it is ethical to park yourself in front of someplace that is giving you Wifi service you are not paying for. One person, who is otherwise so medakdaik on everything, sees nothing wrong in getting free Internet by "borrowing" someone else's Wifi. The argument is that the air is still free and if he catches something in the air, that does not belong to anyone, nor is it harming anyone. Watch the frum teenage yeshiva boys who have Ipod Touch systems. One passes on to the other precisely what locations around school will give them "free" Wifi access so they can use the Internet. Basic to all who argue that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing is it is not costing anyone anything.

I brought this up to my husband, my resident computer expert. His ruling is that it is ossur to use Wifi that you are not paying for because it is costing someone something. You are affecting the service of those who pay for it. I'm not going to get too technical, but the provider of the Wifi has a certain amount of bandwidth available for its subscribers. The more people who log on using the Wifi, the less bandwidth available. So "free users" can clog the system and reduce speed and availability, thus reducing the value and usability of the product that some people are paying for.

Perhaps we need to remember that old saying about how there is no free ride or "free lunch" in this world. You pay for things one way or the other. Should "free" Wifi service come at the expense of self-respect and ethical behavior? And is someone's saying "They charge too much for this service so big deal if I take some" in any way, shape or form either a logical argument or one that someone who purports to be frum should be making?


Anonymous said...

I am not so sure:

1) There is often a lot of unused bandwidth. I have a wireless in my house, and I don't care that others occasionally tap in. I have sometimes noticed others using the connection when I have monitored, but never noticed my use impaired by it. I do not run banking data through it ever, however, as that is asking for trouble.

2) If the Wi-fi provider is concerned about it, he can easily encrypt the router so free loaders cannot tap in.

Given that, it may well be that tapping into the Wi-Fi is "zeh ne'heneh v'ze lo chaser" (This party benefits, and it costs the other party nothing)

I do not tap in to others' Wi-fi, but if there were some reason to, I'd at least ask a shaila. Saving the $39.00 the wireless router cost me is not a reason to tap in. And certainly when the Wi-Fi is made available as a public service by, say, the town, it is permissible to use it.

Anonymous said...

It should be fairly easy, if you have a wireless connection, to call up your ISP and have them turn it into a secure connection which requires a password login. In addition to preventing thieves, this is goo for another reason. Ever internet connection has it's own unique identifying IP address. If someone is not only stealing your internet, but also using it to, say, download child pornography, then your home's IP address would be what law enforcement traced the downloader to. It's good sense to protect yourself.

Anonymous said...

I agree that using someones internet service without permission is stealing. However, there are a number of problems:

1. Many places provide free WiFi, stores, coffee shops, restaurants, airports, etc. The way they signify that the service is free is by not requiring a WEP key and not requiring a login when connecting.

2. Therefore, most PCs will scan the vicinity to see which WiFi networks are available. Furthermore, most PCs will connect to any of them, and some use the strongest signal available. One time last year, my computer kept trying to connect to my neighbor because it saw it as the strongest signal for some reason, but I stopped it by using different software that allows *me* to specify the order and which ones to disallow.

So, if it is generally accepted that the way to signify free service is to provide an open system, and since the PCs are designed for such access, there is a real question here. Especially considering that:

a. It is extremely easy to setup a password for ones WiFi access point. It takes literally less than 5 minutes, and *every* wireless router on the market supports it. And if you need help, your ISP will willingly help, they do it every day. Also, once you set it up, and once you setup the PCs permitted to access it, it remembers it forever.

b. For legal reasons, only a very imprudent person would leave an open WiFi signal available without clearly posting it and absolving (at least trying to absolve - no cases have yet been brought to disprove this) oneself of liability. An open wifi signal is an invitation for criminals (some very nasty ones) to ply their trade completely anonymously and possibly have it blamed on you!


Bas~Melech said...

I'm with the above posters. Most of the networks that show up on my computer are password protected, as is my own. If it's not protected, that's like a declaration that it's free-for-all. I don't see how there could be an issue of stealing in this case.

SaraK said...

I asked this shaila to my Rav. I was living in an apt building and my computer was picking up someone else's signal instead of my own wireless router. Since it is so easy to encrypt a wireless connection, I was told that if the other person left it open, I could let my computer connect to it. Every time I have ordered high speed internet, I am told by the ISP that everyone should password protect their wi-fi. If someone doesn't, he can't blame other people for using his wi-fi.

Dave said...

I should point out that if the person who controls the open WiFi point is malicious, they can do a great deal of damage to you, depending on what you do using that network.

Just something to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

More discussion took place the previous day: Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief []

ProfK said...

Thanks anonymous for the link. The full article can be seen at,9171,1813969,00.html

What I found interesting was that there is an actual law against "borrowing" someone else's Wifi. Should those who have Wifi be password protecting themselves? Yes. But it's analagous to someone's leaving a vault in their home unlocked. Just because they left it unlocked does not mean that we can waltz in and help ourselves to the content. Stealing is not dependent on the security of the item being stolen--locked away or open a theft is a theft.