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Public venue Wi-Fi compliance questioned

By Retail Technology | Monday November 25 2013

Mobile communications provider claims the majority of venues are not providing legally compliant Wi-Fi, while offering its social sign-on offering as a solution

Research released today by Purple WiFi has found many venues providing free public Wi-Fi are leaving networks open to criminal or terrorist use.

The cloud based Wi-Fi software provider examined the Wi-Fi security of 3,349 venues worldwide. While 82% believed they were legally compliant, most venues surveyed actually were not. 

Some 2,048 venues confirmed that they were either running completely open networks, meaning anyone could access the network; or handing out a password, which indicates the venue has no way of tracking internet access back to the user. The provider said this leaves the network open to criminal or terrorist use without fear of tracking implications.

Although public Wi-Fi legal compliance differs slightly by country in accordance with various local laws, the main common premise is the ability to track activity on a network back to the user. For example, UK legislation for public Wi-Fi includes the Data Protection act, European Directive for Data Retention Regulations 2009, the Code of Practice (Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001), Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and Digital Economy Act 2010, for which the venues are liable.

Access and content security lacking

In addition, the data revealed that 58% of the venues surveyed had no content filtering in place or did not know if they did. This means explicit and illegal content could be accessed directly through the venue’s Wi-Fi connection.

Purple WiFi used its research to highlight the launch of its free social Wi-Fi, which it claimed would allow venues and retailers of all sizes to take advantage of legally compliant Wi-Fi without charge.

Purple WiFi supports legal compliance as part of its free product, while content filtering is incorporated into its premium product, which is provided in collaboration with integration partners Cisco Meraki and AirTight Networks and available at £25 per month. The service enables users within a public space such as a bar, cafe, restaurant or hotel, to ‘like’ the relevant Facebook page or ‘tweet’ about their location to gain access.

Analytics and marketing functionality

Gavin Wheeldon, Purple WiFi chief executive, commented: “The international Wi-Fi market is expected to be worth more than $93 billion [£56.8bn] by 2018, but it has offered little in the way of value for the venues that provide Wi-Fi. Purple Wi-Fi puts the power of Wi-Fi back into the hands of the venue, with simple social authentication to keep customers happy, analytics and marketing functionality that enables the venue to better understand and target its customer base, and assistance with legal compliance for peace of mind.”

Purple WiFi is also a member of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), and blocks all IWF blacklisted URLs. It also allows venues to block certain content – i.e. porn and illegal content, essential for public venues such as universities, hospitals and housing associations. To date, Purple Wi-Fi said it had blocked up to 10% of URL requests for its content filtering customers.

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