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May 23, 2006 1:50 PM   Subscribe

When is it OK to point out something that may be very important even if it does not directly address an AskMe? This post is from a person who acknowledges "borrowing" a neighbor's open WiFi connection. I would like to know if MeTa thinks I was out of line in posting this and this. The resulting response bothers me. I tried to be both helpful and understanding that she may be unaware of potential legal issues with "borrowing" wifi, and gave protective advice to her about being safe when she gets her own WiFi, too. Am I guilty of a derail, or is this kind of discourse acceptable on AskMe?
posted by twiggy to Etiquette/Policy at 1:50 PM (92 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Well, you were off-topic and wrong, and urania was overly defensive and snippy.

Welcome to MetaFilter.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:59 PM on May 23, 2006


I honestly thought that this:

I would say that posting publicly that you're breaking the law is probably a Bad Idea(tm). Are you perhaps unaware that you're breaking the law?


was an over-reaction on your part. Hell, I just used my neighbor's open wi-fi network last week when mine was down for a bit. Me and that neighbor are friends although I never asked her if I could hop on her network for a few hours. Did I commit a crime!

That aside (about a neighbors wifi) was an aside and not germane to the main question - which holds even in cafe/library situations. You homed in on it and then assumed the worst. So, yes, I think it was a derail - though not a horrid offense on your part - just a slight breach of etiquette I'd say.
posted by vacapinta at 2:01 PM on May 23, 2006


Yeah you were off-topic. But there was also this:

Twiggy: When your new neighbor finds your open network and downloads kiddie porn and gets busted -- guess who gets arrested first, and maybe has no way to argue "it wasn't me"?

You were challenged in thread to back up that statement with a single example of that ever having happened. You should provide that example here, or withdraw the statement. I am curious about this as I leave my connection open as a neighborly gesture.
posted by LarryC at 2:10 PM on May 23, 2006


I didn't know it was illegal to use the free WiFi coffeeshops offer, so I've learned something.
posted by MarkAnd at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2006


You know what's a derail? Posting in the thread 4 times to argue your point.
posted by smackfu at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2006


If kiddie porn is downloaded on your own open wifi connection, it is not your responsibility. You are treated as a network carrier in the eyes of the law, just as your ISP isn't responsible for what goes over the wires (which is how the law has to be, you don't see people suing AT&T over obscene phone calls that use their phonelines).

The person that downloads bad stuff is liable, not you hosting the network (this is all gleaned from various EFF stuff I could dig up if you really want the law numbers and precedent)
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:16 PM on May 23, 2006


It was a derail, and it was unsupported bunk.
posted by mzurer at 2:27 PM on May 23, 2006


ughhhhhhh...
posted by SweetJesus at 2:31 PM on May 23, 2006


Yeah, Twiggy you were out of line. Fairly frequently I find myself aghast at the stupidity of some AskMe question. When I find myself rolling my eyes and typing condescending stuff like "Perhaps you're unaware that you're breaking the law?" I huff and puff my way over to my browser's "back" button and move on to another question. Lots of people ask dumb questions in AskMe. It's not your job to call them out on it-- either answer sincerely or keep silent. Think "this question doesn't DESERVE a response from me" if you need to assert your superiority. Then give 'em the cold shoulder.
posted by bonheur at 2:34 PM on May 23, 2006


i suspect that uranius could have simply responded to you in email and asked mathowie to delete your answers via email as well. but sometimes this shit happens in the open. while I can sympathize with your desire to answer that way, I also know that I specifically refrained from answering the question because I wasn't sure it was an appropriate answer. these things happen, sometimes, of course. but i think the both of you just committed small breaches of etiquette, more than anything else. no biggy either way.

I still think he's being awfully liberal in his use of the word "borrowing," though.
posted by shmegegge at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2006


unsupported crap, not part of the question. derail.
posted by puke & cry at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2006


I thought it was a derail and you were out of line after your first one or maybe two comments. Since the OP was responding I tried to leave the posts in as of the last time I saw them ( a few hours back) because they did add to the conversation somewhat as well as the OPs understanding of the issue. In a general sense, people need to learn to leave things alone when people talk about doing things they don't like in AskMe. Say your piece and move on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:44 PM on May 23, 2006


Haven't you posted this same bullshit before? I could swear that I've seen the kiddie porn thing on AskMe before.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2006


You derailed inappropriately. Could urania have been more polite? Sure — but it's easy to get ticked when it's your thread, you're asking for help, and some schmuck comes along to airdrop offtopic criticisms. I've been in those shoes; and while I've managed to avoid snapping back, I can definitely sympathize with someone who can't.
posted by cribcage at 3:09 PM on May 23, 2006


Ok, since there's consensus it's a derail, I apologize. Because someone asked in this thread, I'll post a bit of press info here:

Wifi porn arrest in canada (yes, it's canada, not the US, but it's a decent place to show precedent).

an instance in the UK, as well...

This one is a looong article, but here's a relevant quote:
The technology has made life easier for high-tech criminals because it provides near anonymity. Each online connection generates an Internet Protocol Address, a unique set of numbers that can be traced back to a house or business.

That's still the case with Wi-Fi but if a criminal taps into a network, his actions would lead to the owner of that network. By the time authorities show up to investigate, the hacker would be gone.

"Anything they do traces back to your house and chances are we're going to knock on your door," Breeden said.

Breeden recalled a case a few years ago in which e-mail containing death threats was sent to a school principal in Tallahassee. The e-mail was traced back to a home, and when investigators arrived, they found a dumbfounded family. The culprit: a neighborhood boy who had set up the family's Wi-Fi network and then tapped into it.

In another Florida case, a man in an apartment complex used a neighbor's Wi-Fi to access bank information and pay for pornography sites.

But he slipped up. The man had sex products sent to his address. "The morning we did a search warrant, we found an antenna hanging out his window so he could get a better signal from his neighbor's network," Breeden said.
Here's the real problems to be concerned with though:
1) Even if ultimately you've left your wifi open, and a "freeloader" did something illegal -- the fact that you may not be sent to jail by a court does not mean that you may not be arrested. The data went to your network, and you're the first person who's going to get hauled in until you can prove it wasn't you.

2) Your average layperson will have NO idea how to prove it was someone else doing illegal things. In fact, most WiFi routers do not save very extensive logs on this stuff.

3) Whether or not using someone's open WiFi is legal, there is still the problem that 99 times ouf of 100, it is actually against the terms of service of your broadband provider to share your connection. If you're "borrowing" an open connection, chances are that this person is not knowledgeable about security and isn't intentionally sharing their connection. By using an unsuspecting person's internet connection, you're subjecting this person to recourse from their ISP, which is unethical.


Yes - legal precedent at this time is sketchy at best. Ethical precedent is a little more clear, though.

At the end of the day -- in the process of an investigation, the poor sap who left his/her wireless connection open out of tech-ignorance may very well be arrested, interrogated and potentially accused of a heinous crime such as kiddie porn trafficking before finally being acquitted after further investigation is complete...

The problem isn't so much whether or not you can go to jail because someone else did bad things -- it's whether or not you can be hassled and possibly have your life severely damaged by the investigation leading into finding the actual perpetrator.
posted by twiggy at 3:09 PM on May 23, 2006


Here's the real problems to be...
The problem isn't so much whether...


The problem is that you keep trying defend your posts.
posted by mzurer at 3:15 PM on May 23, 2006


klang: I've not participated in any WiFi ethics discussions before, so please don't accuse me of it.

A search, though, to answer your question, points to threads here and here. Incidentally, people tend to be quite in agreement that "borrowing" wifi is unethical.

Interestingly, mathowie angrily responds in one of those threads with Here's the gist of it: most people leave their networks open on purpose.

I disagree strongly. Most people haven't the foggiest clue about how or why they need to put a password on their Wireless network, even now in 2006. Forget about 2004 when that was posted.

Jessamyn, incidentally, weighs in agreeing with that sentiment.
posted by twiggy at 3:19 PM on May 23, 2006


I didn't respond "angrily" and I'm not wrong -- every wifi router I've unpacked since 2002 has a quickstart guide telling you how to put a password on it and strongly encouraging you to do so. For people to ignore that, I have to guess they either ignore any and all instructions that come with their products or they intended to keep it open for their friends and neighbors that occasionally hop on.

I still think the "kiddie porn" defense is weak when you're not liable for it and it is possible and easy to prove you didn't do something (my routers log access by mac address, which is easy to show you don't own the device that pulled down the kiddie porn).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:36 PM on May 23, 2006


When is it OK to point out something that may be very important even if it does not directly address an AskMe? ... Am I guilty of a derail, or is this kind of discourse acceptable on AskMe?

It's always OK to point out important issues that aren't addressed by the questioner. However, you should either 1) be entirely certain that what you are pointing out is correct or 2) indicate that you are simply bringing the issue to the poster's attention and suggest they research it further.

I don't know if you were right or wrong, but other posters here seem pretty clear that they think you were wrong, so perhaps you should have approached the issue more diplomatically.
posted by MrZero at 3:52 PM on May 23, 2006


But what if the Taliban used my open connection to download kiddie porn and promote gay marriage? I'd go to jail then, right?
posted by LarryC at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2006


You'd go to super-secret jail.
posted by puke & cry at 3:56 PM on May 23, 2006


Also, would there be any case at all if someone on your network accessed a kiddie porn site, but they can't find a single piece of kiddie porn-related content on any computer you own?
posted by aaronetc at 4:09 PM on May 23, 2006


At the end of the day -- in the process of an investigation, the poor sap who left his/her wireless connection open out of tech-ignorance may very well be arrested, interrogated and potentially accused of a heinous crime such as kiddie porn trafficking before finally being acquitted after further investigation is complete...

Hahahah...

In the first story, the guy was naked in his car watching porn streamed over a wireless network. Do you really think he was arrested primarily for leeching off a wireless network? I think it's more for the possession of child porn and public, uh, self-flagulation. Besides - first sentence, second paragraph - "Prosecutors have not sought to charge the owner of the Wi-Fi connection used to download the images. "

Your second link doesn't work, but it's England anyway, and they have all sorts of wacky Lords and barons and gentries and shit, so it's completely different.

Your third link is an idiot being made an example of, which is something I think we need more of around here.

When the police raid your house, they'll confiscate your computer equipment, right? I believe my linksys router keeps a logfile of IP requests somewhere tied to an home network IP and MAC address. If you had any good kind of lawyer, or the police were any good at their job, they wouldn't waste any time on you because the evidence wouldn't point toword you.

It's a profoundly stupid reason not to use open WiFi connections.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 4:15 PM on May 23, 2006


For people to ignore that, I have to guess they either ignore any and all instructions that come with their products

which people do all the time. And that's not the only reason, either. My family's wifi router was unsecured for years because I mistakenly imagined that they wouldn't need it because there weren't enough people in range for it to be a real threat. then I come home one day and notice that the dhcp table has a ton of people on it I don't know, and it was only then, years later, that I secured it.

there aren't that many generous people in the world that you can just assume that any unsecurted network you find is purposely made so for communal benefit. that's absurd.
posted by shmegegge at 4:46 PM on May 23, 2006


Interestingly, mathowie angrily responds in one of those threads

Here's Matt's original comment. I'm not sure how anyone can claim anger in that comment.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:46 PM on May 23, 2006


The question is not about ethics.

Amen.
posted by scarabic at 4:50 PM on May 23, 2006


It seems that metafilter has a set of illegal things that are ok to discuss, and another set that are not ok to discuss.
posted by knave at 4:51 PM on May 23, 2006


I'm not sure how anyone can claim anger in that comment.

maybe it was:

Jesus, you people are freaks.

posted by scarabic at 4:51 PM on May 23, 2006


Here's the gist of it: most people leave their networks open on purpose. -- mathowie

I completely disagree. Most of the open networks I've stumbled across are set to the default, factory settings. The "problem" is that these devices come configured in such a way that they generally "just work" out of the box. Which means users don't spend any time learning how to configure them to be secure, even if the manual explains how to do it. My parents have one and they didn't even know that it was publicly accessible.

I'd venture the guess that about 5% of open networks are open because of philanthropic reasons.
posted by knave at 4:54 PM on May 23, 2006


shmegegge writes "there aren't that many generous people in the world "

Maybe in your world, my world is a happier, co-operative place.

twiggy writes "Incidentally, people tend to be quite in agreement that 'borrowing' wifi is unethical."

A read thru this thread would indicate otherwise.
posted by Mitheral at 5:01 PM on May 23, 2006


I used several open networks for internet access because I'm too broke to pay for it myself (there's a monopoly in the area on cable modems and I'm not up to paying for landline for DSL, because hi, by the time I pay the landline fee, it's not cheaper).

The way I see it: anyone who is bothered by other people using their network and is not tech-savvy enough to password protect it is not savvy enough to see that I spend all my time reading my LJ friends page, the arts sections of various publications, and MetaFilter.

I can't see how it's illegal to use anything that's public domain - which your network signal is if you don't encrypt it somehow.

Also: I'm so sure that my web use would bore anyone who tried to hack into my computer that I really do not worry about it, though I will probably start using the secure gmail server now that I know about it.

And yeah, twiggy, there's no reason to get in someone's face about ethics when they're asking a simple "is this possible?" Ethics aren't the point.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:19 PM on May 23, 2006


I can't see how it's illegal to use anything that's public domain - which your network signal is if you don't encrypt it somehow.

the bandwidth that person is paying for isn't. i wonder if that'll stop you, though.
posted by shmegegge at 5:24 PM on May 23, 2006


shmegegge, with a very few exceptions, bandwidth is unmetered in the US. You pay $40-60 for an unlimited broadband connection. There is no economic cost to my neighbor piggybacking on my connection as long as he/she doesn't degrade it for me.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2006


Jessamyn, incidentally, weighs in agreeing with that sentiment.

Um no. I live in the middle of BFE and my neighborhood got DSL nine months ago, so people are new with it which was what I was talking about.

The point is that in most cases you don't know if a network is open on purpose or by accident and while I'd like to think it's open on purpose, others like to think it's open by accident. Like a lot of current copyright law, the "am I going to jail/get in trouble?" part of using some random wifi signal is mostly untested. The illegality of using an open network to do something already illegal is less up in the air.

This is an issue that turns into a trainwreck more often than not. The original question was a totally straightforward "what are my risks when I'm doing this?" A mention that you might risk going afoul of never-before-prosecuted-legislation is possibly, and this is a stretch, worth mentioning once and then not again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:38 PM on May 23, 2006


It may not be metered, but I pay for 3.0/500 and I expect to use it. You can make an argument that if you're not savvy enough to protect your network you're probably not using those kind of apps that fill the pipe, but even if it is not metered, there is a cost in terms of the service provided.
posted by mzurer at 5:38 PM on May 23, 2006


do you get unlimited amounts of bandwidth per second?

in otherwords, if I jump on your network and start downloading from fileplanet at 300-600k/sec, will your own internet use at that time see absolutely no loss in immediately available bandwidth? no? huh. I wonder how I'd know if you were using it when i decided to do that. hell, I wonder how 15 people doing less heavy tasks all on borrowed bandwidth would know what everyone else was doing.

and let's not even get into when providers start throttling customers suspected of p2p filesharing.
posted by shmegegge at 5:41 PM on May 23, 2006


The legality of accessing an unsecured wireless is still up in the air, mostly because there haven't been any cases tried. However, an owner of a wireless node is almost certainly breaching the contract with his or her ISP by allowing open access. While that might not seem like a big deal, a breach of that contract can trigger liability for both the owner of the network and the individual accessing the network under CFAA. So don't be so sure it's not illegal.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:02 PM on May 23, 2006


While broadband is generally not metered in the US, there are secondary and tertiary impacts to freeloading, even if the primary point of "borrowing" is not affected right away.

There's a great article about this that goes into the long term impacts.

I'm honestly disgusted by a couple of points in this thread:

a) Mathowie: First I never called you "wrong", I said I disagree strongly.
b) As someone else mentioned, most wireless routers just work out of the box. People skip the instruction manuals because they don't need them.
c) The "if they left it open unknowingly, that's their problem" is a completely unreasonable argument. If you leave your apartment door unlocked, should I be able to take whatever I want out of it? If you have a water spigot outside of your house, should I be able to use as much as I want because you didn't lock it up?
d) The "wireless clouds go outside of houses, so it's no longer your property" argument is another load of crap. Nobody can or will invent a consumer-level wireless router that magically stops at the borders of your home. Just because the signal gets outside of the home doesn't mean it's the owner's implicit intent to let you borrow it.
e) Even if you want to yammer all day about how I'm an idiot and I'm wrong and there will never be any legal problems: the "you're an ISP" argument is being used overconfidently and hasn't been tested in court. Tell that to Kazaa or any of dozens (hundreds?) of bittorrent sites, etc etc. See how they respond about their legal standing as just a "service provider".

I understand the whole geek/hacker/open source "share everything" ethic, and in many cases I totally agree with it. However, to argue that the majority of open wireless connections are intentionally left that way shows an overestimation of the intelligence of the average joe.

Furthermore, even if it could only be argued that 10%, 5% or even 1% of open wireless connections were not left open with the intent of letting you "borrow" them, then you're potentially doing something unethical by assuming you're borrowing a wireless connection, because you have no idea if this particular one is intended to be open or not.


I apologize for the original post in the askme thread, I really do. I asked my question here to get honest feedback because I thought "hey, maybe my opinion doesn't mesh with the majority of MeFi, so I should probably ask for future reference". So for the original post, I'm sorry.

I can't say I apologize for vehemently backing up why wireless freeloading is unethical in this thread, though.
posted by twiggy at 6:15 PM on May 23, 2006


twiggy, please, walk away


. . .or, continue to vehemently prosecute your argument to its logical conclusion in a complete flameout.
Either way, many of us will continue to disagree with you.
posted by Zetetics at 7:29 PM on May 23, 2006


Seriously, twiggy, you can make whatever points you want, I'm still going to be borrowing wireless for the forseeable future because why should I pay for it when it's coming into my house for free? Yeah, it would be the ethical thing to do but I'm pretty broke and can use that $40/mo to pay for FOOD.

Also, if I left my apartment unlocked and someone went in and stole my cat, I'd be pretty pissed, but I would understand that THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS. Thus, I do not leave my apartment unlocked.

If I had a wireless network of my own, I wouldn't lock it because hey, I've mooched off of others. What goes around, etc.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:44 PM on May 23, 2006


If I'm silly and leave a nice convenient hose connection on my water piping outside of my house, that doesn't give you the implicit legal right to use the utility that I pay for. You're leeching on a utility that someone pays money for by using their wireless connection, which can be viewed as stealing.

This is an idiotic statement. The fact that you can draw an analogy dosn't prove anything.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 PM on May 23, 2006


Wifi porn arrest in canada (yes, it's canada, not the US, but it's a decent place to show precedent).

The guy was arrested for porn, not for using wifi. sheesh.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on May 23, 2006


You could make the argument that borrowing wifi might degrade another user's performance. Like if I'm pirating movies off bit-torrent, then someone starts using my bandwidth, I won't be able to pirate as hard. (or stream videos, etc).

Anyway, I don't see it as a big deal. I don't always like it when people use my connection, but generally I've been to lazy to restrict the network in case someone wants to bring a laptop over, or something.
posted by delmoi at 8:59 PM on May 23, 2006


twiggy: "Walk away" is the best advice you're going to get in this thread. These arguments have a tendency to get people worked up (just as they have an equal tendency to never convince anyone of anything); and when that starts to happen, regardless of whether you're right and everyone else is wrong, you need to walk away. It's just the Internet. It ain't worth the bother.
posted by cribcage at 9:07 PM on May 23, 2006


I had an open wireless network until recently. I got the distinct impression someone was using it full-bore for torreting, because my otherwise quick connection had gone to hell recently (even for the wired computers on the network).

I took it offline and things are fast again. Go figure.
posted by scarabic at 9:14 PM on May 23, 2006


twiggy, you're out of line in so many ways here it's hard to keep track, but starting with an utterly wrong assertion you hadn't bothered to research sure stands out. Then came the classic 'post-in-a-rut' behavior, with a self-callout in MeTa as icing on the cake. Bravo. This one is my fave, though, directed at the original poster:

Your defensive response here just makes me think you are knowingly doing something wrong, and that bothers me a lot.

Way to get all up inside an AskMe questioner's head and judge them. Nice jerky move. But why on earth would it "bother you a lot" if someone you don't know is using someone else you don't know's wireless network? Get a grip. And stop being so easily bothered.
posted by mediareport at 10:04 PM on May 23, 2006


I'm not going to disagree with monjou because he's a lawyer and I'm not - but doesn't unauthorized access qualify as a crime?

In any case - if it weren't for the security considerations of someone being behind my NAT and having unfirewalled contact with our laptops, I'd happily open my network. I remember one hotel I was at where the first attempt to access ANY website was redirected to a simple Acceptable Use Policy page, and once you clicked 'I Agree' you had a completely normal Internet connection. Would be fun to try and set that up with my DNS server. Couple that with some carefully crafted PF rulesets to limit bandwidth and deprioritize packets not from my machines and it would pretty much kick ass.
posted by Ryvar at 6:00 AM on May 24, 2006


"It may not be metered, but I pay for 3.0/500 and I expect to use it."

Do you have an unsecured network?

"If you have a water spigot outside of your house, should I be able to use as much as I want because you didn't lock it up?"

If it's spitting out water, rutting the ground, and I want to fill up a bucket, yeah.

And god, what terrible relationships you must have with your neighbors.
posted by klangklangston at 6:27 AM on May 24, 2006


I have to agree with #1 on this one. I set up a wifi network at home a couple of years ago and purposely left it open. I live in the middle of the woods, so there is not much chance of random kiddie-porn copyright-violating criminals driving down my driveway then parking in my yard using my signal. I did want any friends who show up at my house with a laptop to be able to get online with no hassle. If I need to secure my connection in the future I will.
posted by TedW at 7:55 AM on May 24, 2006


And god, what terrible relationships you must have with your neighbors.

this makes no sense. i've never had a neighbor who would have liked me to walk into their yard and just take water from their spigot. I have, however, had plenty of neighbors who were pleased as hell to help me out when I asked them first, and for whom I've been more than happy to do the same under the same circumstances. what on earth is your neighbor relationship like?
posted by shmegegge at 8:32 AM on May 24, 2006


i've never had a neighbor who would have liked me to walk into their yard and just take water from their spigot.

I've never seen a member continue to use a bad analogy. Wifi isn't at all like a water hose on your driveway that you pay for every single gallon, nor does it require someone trespass to use it.

Wifi is more like you broadcasting a FM signal playing music to all the stereos in your house, and your neighbor happens to tune to 88.1 to also enjoy it (and yes, I am assuming the neighbor isn't hogging bandwidth in this case, though everyone ignores that part when I repeatedly state it).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:03 AM on May 24, 2006


I've never seen a member continue to use a bad analogy.

never?

either way, I'm just talking about klang's bizarre accusation about twiggy's neighbor relations because of the water spigot analogy. it sounded to me like klang was specifically referring to twiggy's take on water indicating poor neighbor relations. if he actually meant that twiggy's take on wifi makes him a poor neighbor, then what I said makes no sense, indeed, but the same is true of what he said.

I am assuming the neighbor isn't hogging bandwidth in this case, though everyone ignores that part when I repeatedly state it

if you're referring to me, then I'll just go ahead and say that I didn't ignore it. I just think it's a bullshit exclusion. anything's okay when you exclude the instances in which it's not.
posted by shmegegge at 9:11 AM on May 24, 2006


For what it's worth, if my spigot is on, and you know that I pay to have the spigot on, and don't pay per gallon, you can have my water. As much of it as you want. Similarly, I will be glad to take your water under the same conditions. Whether or not you think it's okay could not possibly matter any less. May the hounds of hell haunt you and your descendants for all eternity.
posted by bingo at 9:25 AM on May 24, 2006


"For what it's worth, if my spigot is on, and you know that I pay to have the spigot on, and don't pay per gallon, you can have my water. As much of it as you want. Similarly, I will be glad to take your water under the same conditions."

Duh. And if my neighbors would be concerned about that while they're not even around, that would indicate a pretty weird relationship with the neighbors.
posted by klangklangston at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2006


and if you have no idea whether they're around, which is necessarily the case, here?
posted by shmegegge at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2006


I just go and use it if it's already on. My filling a bucket won't stop them from using it, and if they come out and tell me otherwise, I'll stop.
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on May 24, 2006


My filling a bucket won't stop them from using it

in this case that's not always true.
posted by shmegegge at 9:54 AM on May 24, 2006


in this case that's not always true.

Yes it is. There's a difference between filling a bucket and filling a thousand-gallon tank on the back of a truck. If you do that, you are asking for trouble (unless you know that no other water is being used, in which case it still doesn't matter).
posted by bingo at 10:35 AM on May 24, 2006


What if you have well water and a wind-powered pump?
posted by TedW at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2006


Then you're using a 256k dialup modem.
posted by bingo at 10:59 AM on May 24, 2006


There's a difference between filling a bucket and filling a thousand-gallon tank on the back of a truck.

this is just arbitrary. assign your metaphor amounts wherever you want, but the amount taken doesn't denote whether the act is theft in the first place. besides that, there's still no way for the taker of bandwidth to know how much the person paying for it needs at any given time, how many other people are also taking from it, or whether their use in any other way bothers the person paying for the bandwidth. and let's be honest, they don't care either way.
posted by shmegegge at 11:01 AM on May 24, 2006


It's not arbitrary. I'm making the distinction between taking enough to interfere with the owner's service, and not taking enough to make a difference. The majority of the time, i.e. for run of the mill emailing and websurfing, then the owner is not going to even notice, and you are doing no harm. On the other hand, if you use emule to download the entire run of Friends, then it's likely that you're hogging bandwidth. If I pull up in front of your house with my laptop, and I check my gmail, the chances that I'm interfering with anything you're doing is zero.

The amount taken does, in fact, denote whether it's theft in the first place. Unused bandwidth does not build up in some kind of credit account for the owner. It dissipates into the air, never to be used again by anyone. The water spigot analogy is actually too kind to the person paying for the bandwidth; it's more like they are standing on the sidewalk, eating a thousand french fries cookie-monster style, and the wardriver is standing next to them, holding out a hand to catch a couple crumbs on their way to the sidewalk.
posted by bingo at 11:22 AM on May 24, 2006


the assigment between how much bandwidth equals a metaphorical bucket is arbitrary is what I'm saying.

The majority of the time, i.e. for run of the mill emailing and websurfing, then the owner is not going to even notice, and you are doing no harm.

1. there are plenty of people, myself included, whose principal time on the internet is spent doing much more than email and websurfing. this isn't limited to downloading off p2p, either. it could be as simple as browsing videosift for a couple hours, or checking a demo at fileplanet, looking at newgrounds (yech) or any number of other more bandwidth intensive activities than you're describing. the principal problem with the people arguing for wifi piggybacking is that they assume everyone browses the way they do. it's not even a safe assumption that the majority of wifi piggybackers do so. maybe most people on the internet do, but they're not most people who piggyback on wifi.

2. what harm is done is not up to the piggybacker to decide. it's up to the owner of the router, who may not be aware of the intrusion. I have heard no reason to believe that lack of knowledge of intrusion makes the intrusion okay. It is the same argument as saying that if you go into someone's unlocked house and watch their tv when they're not at home (or when they are home but are not, for some reason, aware of you watching it) then there's no harm done. You have to seek out unsecured wifi networks, enter them without permission, and make use of bandwidth that isn't yours and which you didn't pay for. tv is not metered, and viewing it does not pick the cable customer's pocket any more than using their wifi does, but it's still wrong. just because there's no law against using someone's wifi network to use their internet connection YET doesn't mean that it isn't wrong. Anyione who gives their bandwidth away is free to do so, but that doesn't make it okay for them to take someone else's, unless they explicitly know that that someone else feels the same way about it as they do.

every argument in defense of unsolicited wifi piggybacking in this thread has been an after-the-fact rationalization for doing something that is selfish and inconsiderate of the person being used. Just as all other forms of data transmission into a person's home in this country (be it radio, tv or just watching a movie) are considered private property, so should internet data transmission into a person's home be.
posted by shmegegge at 11:38 AM on May 24, 2006


I just think it's a bullshit exclusion. anything's okay when you exclude the instances in which it's not

I urge you to never use this line of argument again.
posted by Zetetics at 12:37 PM on May 24, 2006


I think it makes perfect sense. I urge anyone who says "[x] is okay, except for when it's not." to never use that line of argument again.
posted by shmegegge at 12:41 PM on May 24, 2006


I think you guys went to the well once too often with that water spigot metaphor.

Plus, I pissed in that bucket.
posted by gigawhat? at 1:22 PM on May 24, 2006


maybe most people on the internet do, but they're not most people who piggyback on wifi.

I guess you could be right, but this is a pretty hard thing to prove either way. If I wanted to do something bandwidth-heavy, then it just doesn't make sense to do it in a situation in which another user is going to get frustrated and reset the router on me.

It is the same argument as saying that if you go into someone's unlocked house and watch their tv when they're not at home (or when they are home but are not, for some reason, aware of you watching it) then there's no harm done.

You can't be reasonably sure that the people who go into your house to watch your TV are not going to look at, take, or damage any of your other stuff. This is actually a pretty good analogy. At any given time, there are X people who want to watch TV, and Y unwatched TVs. X is probably a lot bigger than Y, but I think it's too bad that the difference can't simply be narrowed down to whatever X minus Y is. If some homeless guy living in the boiler room of my apartment building is tapping into my TV cable so he can watch Entourage, then bully for him. I wish that I could trust him enough to invite him upstairs to watch it with me. The fact that he can benefit anyway, even without being able to establish that level of trust, is a good thing.

every argument in defense of unsolicited wifi piggybacking in this thread has been an after-the-fact rationalization for doing something that is selfish and inconsiderate of the person being used.

You're assuming that everyone else is starting from the same moral framework that you are. I'm not making any kind of rationalization. We just have fundamentally different ways of looking at life. Do you think that when we were all part of the primordial ooze, there was a directive against wi-fi piggybacking lurking, waiting to get out? Do you think that it came from God? There is no inherent right to anything; it's all just a bunch of agreements and compromises that people come to in order to keep from hurting each other.
posted by bingo at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2006


Wow. This thread exists why?

I thought my original question was useful and relevant -- SO many people use free wireless, neighbor or coffeeshop or whatever -- and I had really sought answers on privacy/protection elsewhere, without finding anything. 99% of the responses to the thread were extremely helpful.

However, I call bullshit on the idea that you were "trying to help me out." I didn't respond negatively to your first post, even though it was patronizing and snarky in tone. I (and other posters) simply asked you to clarify the "law" issues. I think you were trying to designate me the poster girl of bad wireless ethics.

I agree it was relevant to bring up ONCE...but "perhaps you are unaware you are breaking the law?" So condescending. Anyway, when you called me out for being "defensive" I think you crossed the line into flamewar style useless crap. I felt baited and frankly, irritated because I thought the thread was going really well otherwise.
posted by urania at 1:44 PM on May 24, 2006


I think it makes perfect sense.

Nope. Its stupid. Trust me.

You see, 'anything's okay when you exclude the instances in which it's not' is clearly, self-evidently, inescapably, a true statement.

However, you're trying to use it to say, 'given that x is ok, x is not ok'.
Everyone else is saying, x is ok, y is rude and selfish.
posted by Zetetics at 2:30 PM on May 24, 2006


"It is the same argument as saying that if you go into someone's unlocked house and watch their tv when they're not at home (or when they are home but are not, for some reason, aware of you watching it) then there's no harm done."

No. It is the same argument as saying that if you can see someone's TV from the public sidewalk, it's OK to stand there and watch it. If they don't know, there is no harm. If they do know and don't like it, they're free to close the blinds. Or even that it's OK to take pictures of people inside their houses if they can be viewed from the street. Once you're in the street, that's part of the public sphere. And ignorantly broadcasting into the public sphere is not a defense when you are broadcasting. If you don't like it, secure your network.
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on May 24, 2006


However, you're trying to use it to say, 'given that x is ok, x is not ok'.
Everyone else is saying, x is ok, y is rude and selfish.


no, everyone is saying "x is okay, and even though y is not ok, x+y is ok because x is okay." this is fundamentally flawed. what I'm saying is "y is not okay, so x+y cannot always be okay."
posted by shmegegge at 8:36 PM on May 24, 2006


klang, your argument doesn't work, because wifi piggybacking involves actively seeking and entering a network that isn't yours and to which you have no right of entry. When looking through somone's window involves breaking into their private paid for property or service, then your analogy would fit. If you encounter and access a freely distributed radio signal (such as typical audio radio signal) that's one thing. encountering and accessing a wifi signal is much the same as this. using that signal to then engage someone else's paid for internet account is not okay, much the same as watching tv through someone's window is not okay because it violates their privacy.

see, even if your analogy fit, it's actually illegal and conventionally considered immoral, as well.
posted by shmegegge at 8:41 PM on May 24, 2006


oh, and bingo is correct. I am tending to ascribe motivations to people that they may not have. for that i apologize. it's far more likely that people simply view the issue differently than I do, rather than them simply trying to justify themselves after the fact. I have to watch myself making those accusations sometimes. sorry.
posted by shmegegge at 8:42 PM on May 24, 2006


So we can agree that x is ok? Splendid.

. . . because wifi piggybacking involves actively seeking and entering a network that isn't yours. . .
shmeg, your argument doesn't work because many computers will automatically connect to open access points, often without their owners being aware of it. Rumour has it that Vista will behave this way by default but I'm sure that we can all agree on how immoral and unethical microsoft is.
Its a design feature that wi-fi is easy to share. Perhaps your real beef is with the hippies who designed the wi-fi spec?
So, its not really anything like television, or radio, or water hoses, or burglars. Its too new to be conventionally considered anything. If people had actually been discussing wi-fi instead of a collection of lame, inappropriate and misleading analogies, this thread might have gone much better.
posted by Zetetics at 10:00 PM on May 24, 2006


"klang, your argument doesn't work, because wifi piggybacking involves actively seeking and entering a network that isn't yours and to which you have no right of entry."

Wrong. My computer asks "Can I enter this network?" And the signal comes back "Yes, you can," or "Enter a password."

It is EXACTLY like BROADCASTING A SIGNAL INTO A PUBLIC AREA. You know why? Because it is BROADCASTING A SIGNAL INTO A PUBLIC AREA.

Or, to keep clubbing analogies to death like seals, if I ask your kid if I can borrow a cup of sugar and he tells me sure, even if you don't know, you can't be mad at me for taking the sugar. My computer asks yours before it joins the network, and it's not my fault if your idiot child says "OK" so often that I never have to buy sugar, especially if you can always tell him to say no.

"using that signal to then engage someone else's paid for internet account is not okay, much the same as watching tv through someone's window is not okay because it violates their privacy."

Wrong again. If someone doesn't want you to watch television through their window from a public space, they should close the blinds or turn down the sound. What's the precedent for that? While people often feel like they have a right to privacy in their own homes, anything that can be seen from a public area (with some minor restrictions based on the jurisdiction) is in the public domain. Which is why I can take photos of you in your kitchen if I want to (part of the paparazzi and the first amendment).
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 PM on May 24, 2006


klang, you're just wrong in your analogy. it's not okay to be a peeping tom, for television viewing or anything else. the onus is never on the person being taken advantage of to prove they couldn't defend themselves. it's always the person taking advantage who has to prove his innocence in the matter. there's a reason for this.

and again, this has nothing to do with accessing a wifi signal, but rather using the internet it is serving.

zetetics: i don't know how I feel about the direction wifi tech is taking. i tend to think that the tech shouldn't be restricted, but that we should take it on ourselves not to abuse it and to enforce punishment on those who do, much the way law works in an ideal world. in practice, this is easier said than done, but i'm not advocating that there be some stricter law surrounding the tech. i'm saying people should take it upon themselves to be more honest in their pursuit of free wifi. if someone says "i use free wifi because i can, and i don't care if it's wrong because i think it's no big deal," then there's nothing I can say to that. what I object to is the idea that there's nothing wrong with it in the first place. the harm may be miniscule, sometimes but it's still wrong.

do people think i'm trying to force them to accept my morality? if that's the case, please stop believing that. what i'm concerned with is trying to establish a reason to believe that it's not as harmless and innocent as people like to believe. i've piggy-backed wifi myself, on rare occasions (stupid psp firmware updates. grrr.) but i've had fights with myself over how okay it really is, and I had to come to the understanding that it's okay situationally, but wrong in principle. we value our privacy for a reason. privacy is considered, largely, to be a thing of somewhat concrete value in that violating it picks one's pocket spiritually/socially/emotionally/whateverly, even if it isn't picked materially. making peculiar exceptions to this concept isn't okay, in my book, because the value of privacy depends on its universally being accepted as valuable. not situationally. (of course, there are situational exceptions that have had to be made to this value assignment, legally speaking, but they're always when one person's right to privacy conflicts wih the rights of another person. i don't see that being the case, here.)
posted by shmegegge at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2006


"klang, you're just wrong in your analogy. it's not okay to be a peeping tom, for television viewing or anything else. the onus is never on the person being taken advantage of to prove they couldn't defend themselves. it's always the person taking advantage who has to prove his innocence in the matter. there's a reason for this."

No, Shmeg, you're wrong. In America, anything "in plain view" from a public area can be photographed, which means that it's legal to look at it. If you don't like it, close your blinds. The onus is not on the photographer to prove his innocence, and that contention shows a very poor understanding of American law. The onus is on the person filing the tort to prove that what was shown cannot be seen from plain view in a public area. If I can see your television from a public area, I can watch it. I'm sorry, but you're just flat out wrong.
This has been established both with a view to private citizens and law enforcment (re: the 4th Amendment), in Katz v. United States. Further, in Kyllo v. United States, it was held that radiation eminating from a private house into a public area is not protected unless a specific action to conceal or hamper that radiation is taken (in this case, infrared).
In plain view from a public area has long been held as the standard in media law, and the fact that if the radiation is broadcast to a public area there would be a strong argument that it does not constitute an invasion of privacy to utilize that radiation. Further, since the computer automatically sends a handshake code, you already have automated confirmation from the user authorizing the use of the bandwidth. Anything else is between them and their ISP.

Feel free to provide legal cites to support your argument, or shut the fuck up.

"and again, this has nothing to do with accessing a wifi signal, but rather using the internet it is serving. "

You're both logically and legally wrong. Perhaps you should shut the fuck up?
posted by klangklangston at 11:13 AM on May 25, 2006


Feel free to provide legal cites to support your argument, or shut the fuck up.

Unfair statement. Legal precedent hasn't yet been set, but it arguably could be some day. Right now, however, police enforcement of cybercrime is incredibly weak.

Fact: Comcast prohibits its customers from allowing open access to its network.

Cite 1: Comcast TOS - see 6c

Quote 1: Multiple Users: The Service and the Comcast Equipment shall be used only by you and by members of your immediate household living with you at the same address.

Cite 2: Comcast TOS - see 6g

Quote 2: Theft of Service: You will not connect the Service or any Comcast Equipment to more computers, either on or outside of the Premises, than are reflected in your account with us. You acknowledge that any unauthorized receipt of the Service constitutes theft of service, which is a violation of federal law and can result in both civil and criminal penalties. In addition, if the violations are willful and for commercial advantage or private financial gain, the penalties may be increased.


Further note: Per the statements in Comcast's TOS - theft of service is a violation of federal law. Feel free to argue that just because comcast says so doesn't mean it is, but that's their claim in their TOS.

It's reasonable to figure that other providers have similar clauses in their TOS as well.
posted by twiggy at 4:16 PM on May 25, 2006


Per the statements in Comcast's TOS - theft of service is a violation of federal law.

Teehee! I'd love to see that enforced in court. Technically, under Comcast's draconian TOS, using my connection on any computer other than the one used to register the service initially is considered "theft of service". In fact, ANY use of a wireless network is considered theft of service under Comcast's TOS, unless you get their permission first (Theft of service is the unauthorized interception and/or receipt of any communications service offered over a cable system without the consent of the cable operator).

Feel free to argue that just because comcast says so doesn't mean it is, but that's their claim in their TOS.

Don't put too much stock in what Comcast would like the law to be. The new Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 will soon make clear what is enforceable, and what is not.

But by all means, keep digging...
posted by SweetJesus at 5:50 PM on May 25, 2006


what I object to is the idea that there's nothing wrong with it in the first place...do people think i'm trying to force them to accept my morality? if that's the case, please stop believing that.

You can't have it both ways. I think that there's nothing wrong with it in the first place. If youre trying to convince me otherwise, then you're trying to get me to accept your morality.

And klang is right about the open-window scenario. That's why the tabloids can print pictures of celebrities hanging out on their own porches without getting sued.
posted by bingo at 8:31 PM on May 25, 2006


I don't necessarily put stock in what Comcast says in their TOS, but regardless of the validity of their claims about legality -- there's still the fact that using Person A's wireless connection causes Person A to violate his/her TOS.

I wonder if the response would be different if the question were specifically phrased "Person A is not very tech savvy, and has purchased a wireless router that works right out of the box with no password. Person B lives downstairs from Person A and notices he can get a signal, so he starts using Person A's internet connection. Is this ethical?"
posted by twiggy at 10:27 PM on May 25, 2006


The response would indeed be different, because that would be a different question.
posted by bingo at 11:22 PM on May 25, 2006


"Fact: Comcast prohibits its customers from allowing open access to its network."

Yes, and? Isn't that between the person who sets up the router and Comcast? I realize that you're fighting the good fight, to allow naifs and the developmentally disabled the right to install their own wireless networks, but there's a very simple remedy— Restrict access.

It could be argued that if a crowd of people gathered to watch a movie through your window from the street that it would constitute public performace, a copyright violation. The remedy? Close your blinds.
posted by klangklangston at 5:59 AM on May 26, 2006


"I wonder if the response would be different if the question were specifically phrased ...""

I wonder if the response would be different if the question was phrased: "Please help me cook up insulting analogies and stupid scare mongering to get my neighbor to stop using my WiFi."

As a bonus, then your child porn thing coulda been on-topic, Twiggy!
posted by klangklangston at 6:02 AM on May 26, 2006


You know what you still haven't come up with yet twiggy? Any evidence whatsoever to support your initial claim that the poster was engaging in something with possible legal reprecussions.

Your question here was answered within the first dozen posts. Everything else has been futile attempts to defend yourself accompanied by a rehash of discussions done dozens time over here and in other venues.
posted by mzurer at 8:39 AM on May 26, 2006


klang, your analogy STILL DOESN'T FIT THE SCENARIO. christ, you're a total asshole. stop talking, because your grasp of logic is impossibly flawed.
posted by shmegegge at 10:43 AM on May 26, 2006


You can't have it both ways.

sure i can. one way to see it certainly would be that i was trying to force my morality on people, but another way would simply be that i'm engaging in a discussion with people where we both explain our viewpoints, and then discuss their relative merits.
posted by shmegegge at 10:46 AM on May 26, 2006


"klang, your analogy STILL DOESN'T FIT THE SCENARIO. christ, you're a total asshole. stop talking, because your grasp of logic is impossibly flawed."

So... You don't have any evidence, do you?
I repeat— Public area, computer says "Yeah, sure," (auto-authorization), faily decent argument to be made from precedent.
Your reply "Nuh-uh! Also, you're an asshole!"
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on May 26, 2006


dude, i've already said that I'm not talking about the legality of wifi piggybacking, because the morality of the issue doesn't depend on a new technology having earned its own set of laws, yet. your analogy is STILL completely wrong, for reasons i've gone into above and which you have completely failed to respond to.

yes, you're an asshole. no, you're not any good at understanding and responding to logical argument.
posted by shmegegge at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2006


Why don't you just admit that you're full of shit and be done with it? Your morality is based on what, exactly? Not any feeling of personal responsibility or quantifiable harm. Your privacy argument fails on its face, and as I've pointed out there is a societal precedent going the exact opposite direction with regard to privacy.
So, you've got the vague musings of the shmeg, with nothing to back it up, and you're calling me an asshole for pointing it out? Sorry, just pointing out that you're being a dipshit does not an asshole make.
posted by klangklangston at 7:20 AM on May 27, 2006


Whatever. I'm done.
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 AM on May 27, 2006


no, acting like this is fucking slashdot or somethingawful makes you an asshole. you're the first person to start hurling insults pretty much everywhere you go. I've gone into, at length, my reasons for valuing the privacy of an internet connection. nothing you've said has refuted it, and your obnoxious internet acronyms don't make a point. you're an asshole. if you left the site forever, we'd be better off.
posted by shmegegge at 9:08 AM on May 27, 2006


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