How can I get free wifi

Free and everywhere: Free WiFi for everyone

Actually, anything is possible today. The only question left is what we do with it. For example, we will all soon have free WiFi everywhere. What does that mean?

When I close my eyes and look deeply into the future for five minutes, then I see it very clearly: We are heading towards complete, seamless networking. So perfect that there is no longer any loophole or escape. But also no unwanted separation from the Internet: we will be online. Always and everywhere. Free. Of course.

We can already access the Internet anywhere in Germany today. Okay, maybe not always on the ICE. But almost everywhere. And I hear my boys one day tell their kids that there were times, back when they were little, when sometimes you just couldn't get on the internet! Or when you had to log in to various hotspots in order to surf for free. You will say: Yes, it was like that back then. We didn't have anything.

You then, this is our today: The reality is that there are already free Wi-Fi hotspots in many cafes, shopping centers, airports, train stations and hotels, that at least in large cities there is free radio in some parts of the city, and that this is sometimes referred to by the operators as A natural service for customers, sometimes seen as a vision of virtual freedom. Where there are no public and freely accessible hotspots yet, we go online via our own mobile phone provider. And if we get into an area in which the mobile network is not yet perfectly developed and there is no freely accessible WiFi, then we feel trapped in edge hell, cut off from the virtual world, without contact to friends or services. And that can make us downright sick: Fomo, fear of missing out, the fear of missing out on something, is not yet a medically recognized clinical picture. However, being offline undoubtedly causes discomfort for a large part of the people who use the Internet regularly. At least that's how I feel, I admit.

German WLAN patchwork

The fact that this WLAN network of hotspots from different providers currently looks more like patchwork and that there is not really free WLAN available everywhere, as is already common in other countries such as Great Britain or South Korea, is due to a passage in the Internet law that it is only exists in Germany: Thanks to the so-called interference liability, a provider of a free WiFi hotspot can be held responsible if a user commits a crime via his hotspot. For example, if a café guest illegally downloads music via a free WLAN, then the host who provided the free service is liable as well as the guest who committed the crime. This fact alone means that freely available public WLAN has not long since been offered nationwide, at least in metropolitan areas. It would be technically possible.

The latest developments in my hometown Hamburg suit me: The city has started a pilot project. Together with the Hamburg communications provider Willy.tel, there will now be free internet in some areas of the city center. It starts with three access points at the Alstertor between Jungfernstieg and Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz. If you want to surf there for free, you can choose the MobyKlick WLAN. Once logged in there, he has free access to the Internet in this area: with up to 100MBit. That is fast.

The aim is to install a homogeneous and stable network through 180 high-performance access points in the entire city center by the end of the year. And by 2020 there should be up to 5,000 access points throughout Hamburg.

Also in some buses in Hamburg, Lübeck and Berlin there is already free WiFi, as you already know from the long-distance bus routes. So: log in once, always be online. A dream! The advantages are obvious: Your own data volume is not burdened. Some users could even downgrade their mobile phone contracts and save money. You only have to log into an access point again instead of having to log into every café or hotel, where you may have to authenticate yourself with your email address, mobile number or Facebook.

The liability for interference is now to be abolished. However, uncertainties remain, as reported by the Netzpolitik.org portal.

Location-based marketing through free WiFi

Accessing the Internet from anywhere free of charge at any time means great mobile freedom. But how free are we really? Who participates in our use of the hotspots and access points? Your establishment generates costs: equipment, infrastructure and maintenance have to be paid for by someone. In Hamburg, these are the local tradespeople who have an interest in their customers being in their area. But they don't just do this because they hope that these potential customers who are in the vicinity might drop by the shop and then buy something.

You can use tracking services such as ad tracking integrated in iOS or location apps such as Swarm in combination with Google searches or the cookies that we allow on websites to carry out "location-based marketing". You can do that now - without extensive WiFi. With WLAN, however, it becomes even easier to follow the customer's path - and to use his interests.

This "location-based marketing" works like this: By means of location via the smartphone, us users are shown advertising and offers from shops in the vicinity on this smartphone. In combination with our Google searches or our interest in certain products, for example at the online retailer Amazon, this advertising is even displayed according to our interests.

So if I've been looking for a fully automatic coffee machine at Amazon at home in the morning and meet up with a friend for cake on the Mönckebergstrasse shopping street in Hamburg in the afternoon, then it is likely that the banner ad on my smartphone browser will show me an advertising offer saying The coffee machine you are looking for in the morning is offered at a particularly good price at Karstadt, which is within walking distance. It's actually a great service.

We are all Persons of Interest

So as long as these services are used to target our consumer behavior alone and in this way we can even save a little when shopping, that's all nice. Of course, they can also be used to inform us about sights or interesting facts about events in the area.

Nevertheless, we should not turn a blind eye to the fact that the data collected about us can possibly also be misused. The US series Person of Interest tells the story of a machine with artificial intelligence that was created to draw conclusions about possible planned crimes based on the movement data of people it has collected from public networks and to inform the authorities about them before this crime occurs . That still sounds like science fiction. It's not utopia.

In 2013, the organizers of the internet conference re: publica in Berlin tracked the movement data of all smartphones registered in their WLAN and had them visualized by Open Data City. Here is an excerpt, the complete site plan can be seen on the re: log page of the data journalism portal. By marking individual points (click with the mouse, hold, drag, release) it is possible to follow these points over the entire period of the three-day conference - even if they were temporarily logged out.

Even savvy internet experts were shocked

This small field test, which was only announced after the event, shocked many guests: even if the data for the visualization was anonymized, visitors were able to use the time, the events they attended and the tweets distributed with the appropriate hashtags on Twitter Clearly assign individual points in the visualization to specific people - and thus follow their path on the entire re: publica site. Data journalist Lorenz Matzat explains further backgrounds and possibilities for interpreting the data in his article on the project. He also talks about the motivation there: "We hope that the application helps to raise awareness of the need to protect one's own privacy. And perhaps it is first thought about why someone offers" Free Wifi "before logging in."

The fact that this tracking and visualization was so easy to implement is also due to the fact that the data came from a single WLAN provider. It would have been much more time-consuming if a different provider had offered a hotspot for free WiFi in every room of the location. However, due to the clearly assigned physical MAC address that every smartphone has (including Android and Windows smartphones), the analysis of the movement data would still be possible, only obtaining the data from the various providers would be a bit more complex.

So do I just have to live with being persecuted all the time?

The answer is simple: as long as I want to use the Internet on the move, it is virtually impossible to escape the tracking network. And it doesn't really matter whether I log into an access point of a public WLAN network or repeatedly to WLAN hotspots in cafés, hotels and shopping centers. Only a switched off smartphone can completely protect me from my movement data being recorded.

That makes me a little dissatisfied. That's why I keep checking the settings of my iPhone 6 to see which apps are accessing my location services. And I'm always surprised that there are apps among them that "always" track my data, and not only when I use the app. I then deactivate them. But if I'm completely honest, then I've long since lost the overview. I use my Chrome browser both at home on the desktop and on the go on my smartphone. Logged in, of course, because I also need my bookmarks. I don't want to do without Google Maps. Facebook and Twitter are mandatory for me, and even if the location services are deactivated for them, I often check myself in somewhere myself, for example at events.

How much of myself I am giving away, whether my data could ever be used against me, whether the disadvantages do not outweigh the beloved advantages of digital mobility, I still cannot really foresee today. And to be honest, I don't want to have to worry about it all the time. And not about any hackers who might intercept any data from me or even give me some, especially when I am in free WiFi networks. Maybe I should do that. But hey, actually I have nothing to hide. And why would someone want to install any malware on me?

And you? How do you feel about that?

But how do you see that? Do you use free WiFi spots to the full? How do you feel about that? Are you doing something to protect yourself? Have I overlooked important aspects of public WiFi and data security? Do benefits or disadvantages predominate for you?

I would be happy if you would leave a comment. But now I'm offline for now;)

Sandra Schink

Has worked as a journalist since 1990. Worked as a freelance photographer for daily newspaper editors,
as editor for magazines and as community manager for stern.de. Digital
has been her life since she first played pong in 1975. She is convinced:
The future is smart.

All articles by Sandra Schink