One of the most important things for anybody to know is that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Everything comes at a cost, even “free” things. Consider public Wi-Fi networks. Companies seemingly provide free Wi-Fi to customers as a courtesy. But those free Wi-Fi networks are revenue generator:
According to an article, which mall officials say they co-wrote, “while being an attractive guest feature, the (Wi-Fi) service simultaneously provides the mall with enough data to fill digital warehouses with information about what people do both online and in the real world while on the property.”
“This type of tracking can happen at any business, any location, any place that there’s any Wi-Fi networks,” Schulte said.
He explained that when your phone connects to Wi-Fi, it’s actually exchanging information with the network.
“You’re telling the Mall of America when you go to the mall, what door you go in, what stores you visit, what level you’re on, as well as what you’re doing on your phone.”
Asked if that means that mall officials could potentially know about it if someone logs onto Facebook while using the mall’s Wi-Fi network, Shulte answered, “Absolutely they know that you’re going to Facebook.”
This is the same paradigm used by websites that rely on ad networks for revenue. Instead of charging the user directly the provider simply snoops on the user and sells the information it collects to advertisers. In this way the advertiser becomes the customer and the user becomes the product.
I recommend against using public Wi-Fi networks. If you have to use one I recommend doing so through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your traffic from your device to the VPN provider’s server. That means your data isn’t visible to the local Wi-Fi network and therefore cannot be snooped on by local network surveillance. Tor can work to a lesser extent in that you can conceal traffic that can be run through the Tor network but it’s not as effective in this case since most systems, with the exception of specially designed operating systems such as Tails, don’t route all traffic through Tor.
Whenever anybody offers you something for free you should try to figure out what the catch is because there is one.