Rather Than Arresting WiFi Freeloaders, Why Not Offer Them Coffee?

from the is-that-so-difficult? dept

The question of WiFi freeloading comes up every few months or so, usually when some local reporter is convinced by some random security person to write a fear mongering report about how using open WiFi networks is evil and people should go to jail for it. Usually these are about someone using residential open WiFi, but a few months back there was the story of a guy arrested for using the open WiFi at a coffee shop. The coffee shop put the WiFi there for people to use, but because this guy used it in the parking lot and didn’t buy anything, the owner of the shop had him arrested. Lots of business owners who offer free WiFi initially get upset at these so-called “freeloaders,” though they seldom seem to realize that the freeloaders usually aren’t costing them much, if anything. Most broadband connections are of the “all you can eat” variety, meaning that there is no additional cost for each user. While they may clog up the connection, that’s also fairly rare.

So, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a column advocating the exact opposite, suggesting that businesses learn to embrace the WiFi “leeches.” It suggests making it easier to connect, by removing logins or other annoying limiting gates, and then just being happy that someone associates your brand with something positive (while lowering the administrative headache as well). The authors note that there are even some Best Western Motels that will offer WiFi freeloaders free coffee — recognizing that even if they’re not staying there that time, in the future they’ll remember the good experience and think about staying at those hotels. In other words, it’s a relatively cheap way to generate some positive feelings from potential customers. Seems a lot more useful than trying to throw those same people in jail.

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Comments on “Rather Than Arresting WiFi Freeloaders, Why Not Offer Them Coffee?”

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Iron Chef says:

Always looking for the Short Term Gains...

Your right on, Mike. It typically costs a company 5-7 times more to replace a customer than to give them what they want. I read a statistic somewhere that said for every customer WalMart loses, it costs something like $10,000 to replace them (marketing, advertisements, and the like.) The same holds true for any subscription based industry- cable, satellite, insurance company, wireless, etc.

Smart companies like Best Western will see this wifi service as a loss leader, and come up with a creative way to convert them into a customer, rather than risk the enormous amount of damage bad press will cause by having someone put in jail for a service that should be free.

Too many companies are so short-sightedm but I digress.

Pravin Wagh (user link) says:

Not arrested for strictly for WiFi

You should probably select a better poster-child.

From what I remember, the freeloader’s case is muddled by the fact that he had some legal issues in the first place, had been asked to leave by the police, but he came right back. I also believe he was considered to be trespassing in the parking lot versus doing all of this from public property (the street or sidewalk).

I used these Digg links because the original story is no longer available at the KATU site.

Bull Shifter says:

You're kidding - right?

In addition to Pravin’s comments(above), it turns out the guy was a sex offender, too.

Hey, Mike, why don’t we just let people have everything they want for free. That way no business anywhere would generate any bad press for themselves. Oh, wait, that’s called socialism, has been tried, and doesn’t work.

Love the sensationalism, though. I think this story is a prime example of the “two sides to every story” theory. Key facts, left unaccounted for, make for a bad journalist. With a little research(very little, it turns out in this case) you can find out what REALLY happened. But, why let trivial things like facts ruin a good concept.

Wolff000 says:

Re: You're kidding - right?

hey Shifter why don’t you get your head out of your ass and read and process information before you regurgitate your half understood commentary. Yes I’m a troll now get off my bridge. Sorry but that comment just hit me all kinds of wrong, people like that are the ones that support drm and other useless crap that makes life difficult. Well not for me I’m a pirate but others hate it. Back to the story at hand. Mike you hit the nail on the head, by giving away a service they are paying for anyway they could make a lot of freeloaders into good customers.

The infamous Joe says:

Forest? You mean all these trees?

I think, perhaps, Mr. Shifter is too focused on the passing example than the point.

Unless I’m mistaken, the point, and corresponding link, are in the second paragraph. (not to mention the title) and deals with companies allowing these so-called ‘leeches’ to use their WI-Fi without being a paying customer. Which sounds fine to me– not that I use Wi-Fi anywhere but home and work, but I’m sure a few college kids unable to shell out the $60+/month for broadband internet or businessmen on lengthy road trips would love the idea.

On a side note– IANAL, but I don’t think you can get arrested for using Wi-Fi if it’s unsecured (in this country) so of course they had him arrested for something else. I could be mistaken, though.

J says:

Missing the point

Sorry Bull Shifter but I don’t think you got the point of the article. It’s not about the guy that got arrested, it’s about how the media usually makes out wi-fi freeloaders to be evil and it’s nice to see someone in the media say something nice about it for a change. Since we’re talking about it though, the fact that he’s a sex offender doesn’t have anything to do with why he was arrested. The media will play the sex offender card no matter what someone is arrested for. If you were a sex offender and you got arrested for unpaid parking tickets you would simply be the sex offender that was arrested for unpaid parking tickets. The man was arrested for being a freeloader. Granted he was told to leave and he didn’t so the offical reason he was arrested was trespassing, but if he would have just been loitering in the parking lot and not using the wi-fi then he probably would have gone un-noticed and the cops never would have been called in the first place.

Smudge says:

There's nothing illegal about it.

Some years back, this same argument was at the forefront of discussion, only it was about Satellite TV signals.
At the end of this mess, the courts set a precedent indicating ‘receiving’ signals was no crime. If the transmitter of the signal wanted it secured, it was [his] responsibility to do so. As we all know, Sat TV is now totally proprietized and secured.
Wi-Fi would fall under the same guidelines. You simply cannot steal an open, unsecured signal. It becomes public domain.

As for the guy sitting in the coffee shop parking lot, his arrest could only have been for trespassing….and perhaps for being a pedophile. Sicko bastard.

Sanguine Dream says:


unless this guy down/uploading child porn I don’t see what his sex offenses have to do with his arrest or this topic.

I think the reason shop owners (especially small shop owners) are scared to use free wifi as a loss leader is they are afraid of what freeloaders would do with the bandwidth. In this day and age where liability for what is downloaded off the net is being shifted around I don’t blame anyone for being scared to use it.

And besides I don’t think the free wifi isn’t gonna do much to boost sales in a coffee shop anyway. One freeloader tells her/his friends. And they tell their friends…etc. Soon you have a shop/parking half full of people that are only there for the free wifi and don’t buy anything.

Now one thing a shop owner could try is (if they are tech/gamer savy enough) to have like weekly LAN parties. Your basic freeloader may not buy anything but if you’re there for an all day or all night LAN party then chances are you will.

In coclusion while there are some good reasons to use free wifi to draw in a crowd there are still plenty of good reasons that shop owners hesitate to dive into the idea.

agree-er says:

i agree with free=business

sonic drive in, in my area has wifi, you do have to log in, but it’s free. which means when i’m in my work truck and hungery i go to sonic bc i can sync up all my work and eat at the same time, instead of wasting it using a nextel dialup modem. I really find my self going there 3 times a week instead of once a month.

Anonymous Coward says:

socialism doesn’t work? ok. neither does capitalism or democracy. in the puresest of senses. actually…they do. only on the small scale. hell COMMUNISM works well in small communities. There’s a communistic group living a few miles from my house. but they aren’t the russians/chinese/koreans you think of when you hear communism. they are the bruderhoff (i spelled that worng but still) and they do well. I belive many government/social walefare issues do work…in small scales. that’s because the good of the group is a larger dictator than the good of the individual. say you and your 4 friends liven in a house. say you share everything, utility bills, food, general house goods (brooms, trashbags, lawnmowers, things like that) that’s communism. you all get a fair share. now, if you start taking longer showers, eating more food, don’t clean the house how long do you think it’ll take before there’s conflict? the small gain of more stuff is outweighed by the probability of your roommates turnning on you, forcing you do do more (If not all) of the work or kicking you out of the house. but if you are say 1 in 1million, it’s easier to be more of a “hog” and have less reprocussions.

that’s my rant on that, and i expect a full tearing of my “theory” in less than 20 minutes.

next, there’s a line between giving “promotions” to attract customers and just giving stuff away. promotions are done to entice a response. wether it’s listening to the radio, going shopping, or returning business to best western, you get some value now in return for loyality later. as opposed to just saying here’s free inet, tshirts, food…and you having no connection between the items and who gave them out.

and this isn’t about someone giving free interent to 100000 of freeloaders at one point. it’s giving to 10 or so people trying to “steal” the free wi-fi.

personally, i think its great. first, i know many ppl that will try to freeload just because it’s “edgy” like oohhh i can haxor my way into the starbucks wifi–(who cares? i don’t, but i guess their friends do) if they find out it’s free..it loses it’s appeal. next if someone really wants broadband, but cna’t pay and they find they can get free and unrestricted internet, it could spark a new customer, and maybe a chaing from that (person tells 3 friends…they bring 3 more each…kinda like a cheap pyrmaid scheeme.

anyway…i think i have enough for you guys to tell me how much of an idiot i am. bring it on

Overcast says:

Yes, it’ll work. I’ve been out on travel a number of times and would have loved to just use some Free broadband for a bit.

Let’s say I need directions to my hotel room. I see that Bill’s Diner has a free WiFi sign up in their parking lot. Well after I’m done with working, I may well visit the establishment or another in the chain. I may not have time to stop and patronize the business right then and there, but service and quality of goods are key factors to me in choosing where to spend my time and money. Free WiFi amounts to excellent service from management.

So sure, maybe there are simply ‘freeloaders’ out there. If they are so pathetic that they have to sit in the parking lot and use WiFi, instead of just spending the 40 a month for broadband at home, there’s a VERY high chance they will never patronize your business anyway.

Plus if the sicko pedo-freak was coming back to use the wireless all the time… The local police simply could have made some logs of the sites he was going to via his MAC address, watched him for a few days to build evidence and arrested him right in the parking lot. Better off to let the freaks do this – give them the rope for their own noose.

Tin Ear says:

So, why not?

If a company has an open Wi-Fi that may or may not require a login, why not place an offer for the services right on the log in page? If you drive to the local Starbucks, Best Western or Sonic and want to log into their system, why not have the option to order a cup of coffee or something from the business at the same time? I know I have times when I would prefer ‘drive-up’ service if I’m in a hurry and have to check my messages. It makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t have a lot of opportunity to do this, but I certainly would take advantage of the ‘login coffee offer’. It would justify using the free hotspot.

Yonah (user link) says:

Free is fine, but can't get rid of the login

You all make some good points, but I have to disagree with some of them. While I tend to agree that businesses should consider offering free wi-fi to help increase their customer base, I also think that they still need that login page. Why? Liability reasons aside, its about customer experience.

Think about bathrooms in a restaurant. A lot of them have signs that read ‘Bathroom for Paying Customers Only’. Why do they do this? essentially to discourage people from using it as their own private bathroom. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone who has a kid with a potty emergency will get turned away, nor will they turn away a regular customer, even if they just stopped in to use the head. The point is, it gives undesirables the notion that the bathroom is being watched.

Same thing applies for wi-fi. If I leave an open network with no login, it becomes tantamount to a public bathroom. But once I put in the login screen – even if there is no verification on the part of the end-user’s credentials, I have essentially said that I care about this network, and know that I am watching you. This alone will discourage a fair amount of freeloaders, but not deter bob from getting his directions.

Iowan says:

In our area, McDonalds has free Wi-Fi. My friends own a coffee shop – which offers free Wi-Fi. They also have about a dozen pc’s set up and host LAN parties. They are incredibly free and loose with who uses both their PC’s and their Wi-Fi. And they have had few if any issues, especially compared to the reputation they have earned. This ‘theoretical’ business model has worked for them. They have even survived the inevitable Starbucks moving in down the street from them – certainly the Cyber part of their Cafe had something to do with this, eh?

Koffewifiadmin says:


Hay Sanguine Dream
what real facts do you have to support your comments….

I put in a free wifi 2 years ago at my Coffee shop to go with pay terminals as the pay terminal has gone down my business has almost doubled and yes we have a lot of people sitting around all day on there laptops but you know what I sell coffee all day and muffins and sandwiches etc… you know what else my place looks “happening” so it draws more people into my place.
in addition I put no log in this creates a community atmosphere. I hate those bathroom signs the guy above talks about what if I am a normal customer or even a once a month customer but today I just need to use the bathroom or the wifi? if I am part of the community its no problem if I am not I want to be welcome anyway.
and as far as your negative goes as with all things you gotta take the bad with the good.

The positive far out ways the negative. The atmosphere of sharing and community is awesome and my business is doing great

f*ckbeans says:

oh crap!

There’s probably an APB out on me to every law enforcement officer in the state. In the last 2 weeks during Christmas shopping I looked into COUNTLESS STORES, obtaining full and illegal enjoyment from their decor. I viewed countless photos, paintings, sculptures, fountains, hot clerks and the like — WITHOUT BUYING A THING, OR EVEN STEPPING INTO THEIR ESTABLISHMENT. I should have known just because their storefronts are wide open and in full view of the entire mall does not give me the right to look it. And think of how many other people did the same thing! All those countless eyes. That decor will probably need to be replaced (at considerable expense) much sooner with that many extra people looking at it. I feel so dirty.

Tyshaun says:

I agree with most of it...

I think offering unfettered WiFi is a great idea. However, I think some type of login should remain because the point is to get the person into the doors of your establishment. Make it easy, maybe a password changed daily posted on a sign in the business.

Why bother, you may ask. In my town there is a local forum that has a list of all the businesses that have open WiFi (some intentional, some just bad router configuration/security). There is a whole group of people who spend lots of time going to these various sites as a replacement for buying their own internet connection. Very lame, but they get some type of charge out of it. One scenario that did come up was a person living next to a coffee shop with free wifi. You can imagine he never got an internet connection of his own (he was later found out because someone looked at the DHCP logs in the router and summized that someone near the store was using the connection way too often). In short, having an easy to acquire, no strings attached, login makes good business sense when combined with free WiFi. You still get increased traffic, lot’s of people think you’re cool, and you minimize the potential for some parasite to abuse your genorosity.

The password for today is …

stevek (user link) says:


We own a small coffeehouse, and provide free, unfreetered, wifi. First, this is primarily a business decision — we are a small shop and the cost to maintain and operate an authentication gateway far outweighs the costs of a couple of leechers now and then. Second, we have to have Internet connectivity anyway — for vendor interaction — so why not give it to our customers? In my mind, this is a no brainer – it makes life easier for our staff and our customers — all of whom stay longer and spend more money then they would if they were on some kind of pay service.

The only issue which arises, in my mind, is the potential effect of non-authentication on our Safe Harbor status under DMCA; however, by maintaining open access, I believe we avoid any liability. I have not, however, had time to really ivestigate this issue.

Brandon Rusnak (user link) says:

How I would run a coffee house wifi hotspot...

If I was in the business of running a coffee-house with wifi I would set up the WiFi so that paying customers who made any purchase whatsoever would have access, whereas freeloaders wouldn’t have access w/o making a purchase.

To accomplish this you could rig up an access point with a splash page requiring a code to continue. When a customer makes a purchase such as coffee a unique access code would be printed on the receipt. They can then use this code to get an hour of free wifi. Once that hour is up they will be presented with a page where they can either enter another code or purchase more wifi. This would of course all be computer controlled.

Someone could potentially make a lot of money selling an easy to install system like this to coffeeshops and other restaurants, newsstands, kiosks, etc.


Kevin Trumbull says:

Unfettered hotspots

I have “followed” the signal from multiple unfettered hotspots back to the businesses that had it.

I’ve eaten horrible salads, drank good coffee, changed hotel plans, and had some rather nice sandwiches because of this.

The point is that rarely I kinda need internet access when I’m not at home/work and I’m not going to pay a monthly fee for soemthing I use so rarely. Furthermore I find the overpriced services many places offer to be really annoying (Starbucks!!!).

As far as “stealing” access; it’s a radio signal. This is already governed by existing laws. You can listen to ANY radio signal that uses public channels and is not encrypted legally. Treating wireless networking differently is an affront to our existing legal framework. But then again, the legislature in the US thinks that our Constitution was printed on toilet paper anyway.

Kevin Trumbull says:

Unfettered hotspots

I have “followed” the signal from multiple unfettered hotspots back to the businesses that had it.

I’ve eaten horrible salads, drank good coffee, changed hotel plans, and had some rather nice sandwiches because of this.

The point is that rarely I kinda need internet access when I’m not at home/work and I’m not going to pay a monthly fee for soemthing I use so rarely. Furthermore I find the overpriced services many places offer to be really annoying (Starbucks!!!).

As far as “stealing” access; it’s a radio signal. This is already governed by existing laws. You can listen to ANY radio signal that uses public channels and is not encrypted legally. Treating wireless networking differently is an affront to our existing legal framework. But then again, the legislature in the US thinks that our Constitution was printed on toilet paper anyway.

spivey ziffle says:

Masnick has his facts wrong on this one...

The guy was not in a parking lot but parked in the street in front of said coffee shop. A cop noticed him sitting there everyday never going inside. He questioned him and the guy told him he was checking his email. Michigan has a law against using someones network without permission. The cop had a feeling the guy was breaking a law so he checked into it. Low and behold the guy was breaking a law. Ironically the coffee shop never knew what the guy was doing or even cared. So all you freeloaders out there get your facts straight before you go off on an ill-conceived and irrational tirade.

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