While doing some shopping today I had to make a quick stop into Kohls (Clothing Store). As I was checking out I was advised that if I signed into their WiFi I would receive a $5 off coupon for immediate redemption. Why would someone want to pay me to get on their WiFi, most places you go want you to buy something first or even just flat out charge you for access to their network.
You just sold yourself, more specifically the digital you for five bucks. The average phone user does not realize that when you leave the area of that network it does not remove or forget it automatically. Even more importantly most stores like Kohls use the same guest SSID at every store. Guess what comes next, unless you are one of the few people today that always run their phone thru a VPN, everything you do on your phone while in that store is now known by the stores network. Every time you visit that store and your device auto connects it is logged, if you drive by the store and get close enough, you ping it again. Now they know how often you are near the store, how often you are in the store, and what you are searching for/doing online while you are there.
Why does this matter?
Sure most websites have HTTPS which can limit the specific data that the network can get from your internet travels but the meta data that is created is more than enough for the network owner to understand your patterns and habits. Are you going to Amazon.com, maybe Google.com, what apps are you opening, how many iMessages are you sending, are you on Twitter? All of this is put into a customer profile with will likely, eventually, be tied to the real world you.
Soo why does this matter?
A topic for another article but, it comes down to privacy, something most Americans take for granted these days. The digital profile of you can be sold or combined with other data providers (Facebook, Google etc.) to give marketers a better idea of what to put in front of your face and when in order to get the best chance for you to act on the advertisement and make a purchase that you might not typically make. Your data is also now in a file, which when that company has a breach becomes public knowledge to anyone, which puts you at risk for future attacks. Your data can be used to determine how you might vote in the next election and if you can possibly be persuaded another way. Your meta data can be used by many for good and bad, and if you are not comfortable shouting what you are doing thru a blowhorn in a crowd, then you should think twice about what network you connect to and what you do on it because it is exactly the same.
How can I prevent this?
The simple solution is to not sign on to their WiFi. If you simply cannot resist that sweet sweet five dollar discount, make sure you remove the network from your WiFi settings in your phone BEFORE you leave the store. On iPhones you cannot manage your networks like you can on some Android phones, you have to be in range/connected to a network in order to remove yourself from it for future connections. If you have to use a stores WiFi (incented or not) using a VPN service can help hide your traffic but it will not hide the fact that you are connection to their network.
You do you!
Understanding and being educated about the technology that surrounds us all and that we use every day is important. It is not magic, everything has a purpose, realizing the potential risk and making an educated choice to use or not use something will help to make everyone in your life safer both online and off. Help educate your friends, families and coworkers; at the end of the day you do what you need/want, but as the saying goes, ignorance is no excuse for the law. Not knowing how technology is used against you is not going to stop anyone from doing it.