Why One-Third of Americans Steal WiFi
America loves being wirelessly connected! We also love free stuff. Thankfully, there's a way to combine these two great passions. According to a new poll conducted by Wakefield Research in conjunction with the Wi-Fi Alliance, 32 percent of respondents admitted to attempting to access private wifi networks that were not their own.
This finding is up from 18% who admitted to wireless sticky fingers in a poll taken in December 2008. This sizeable jump undoubtedly has as much to do with the smart phone explosion of the past two years as it does to any colossal slump in ethical fortitude.
We're mostly good folks, right? We try our best not to encroach on the wellbeing of others. But the internal debate as whether to sneak onto some shmo's unprotected (or easily protected) network certainly becomes more daunting when away from our personal networks and facing the fickle fortunes of the great Carrier gods.
When you get into the poll's fine print, the numbers comes even more revealing. The survey was taken among 1,054 Americans over the age of 18. According to the poll's methodology, this sampling was not separated by those who already own wifi-enabled gadgetry (or the basic technical wherewithal) to partake of someone else's invisible Internet. Of the 68 percent who claimed they've never tried to get in on someone else's wifi, I imagine a large portion were folks who wouldn't know how to shoplift some web access even if they wanted to. My grandmother who still doesn't trust the remote control could have been part of this poll for all I know.
Does lowering of the bar for access to information cause us to make less ethical choices? In short: absolutely. If you asked a poll group in 1988-ish how many have or would consider stealing albums from a store, you would get a very low response rate. However, if asked a similar group circa 2005 how many have recorded music in their collection that they did not pay for, the number would be much higher. A similar pattern goes for wifi. How many of us would consider sneaking a wire through a neighbor's window and into their wired hub to gain access to their network. Besides the tricky logistics (and inherent breaking and entering aspect) of the operation, that action would just seems kind of wrong, doesn't it? But how many would connect an iPhone to the wifi of the elderly neighbors next door whose password is their cat's name? That scenario just seems more kosher and adorable: less criminal, more lifehack-y.
While few have ever been convicted the crime of wifi theft, there is still a price to pay: the loss of trust. According to the same poll, 40 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to trust someone with their house key than with their wifi network password. A house key—mind you—that would give someone access to all the various devices connected by the wireless we cherish so.
And more than a quarter said that sharing their network password feels more personal than sharing a toothbrush. Apparently, if you want to show that special someone in your life that you want to take things to the next level this Valentine's Day, forget that "flower and chocolates" nonsense, a small slip of paper with the last name of your second grade teacher followed by your mothers birth date will be suffice enough.
The numbers of people trying to get onto your network is only likely to increase (let alone the danger posed by real criminals who would try to steal all your personal information floating through the air). Remember to use an encrypted network and maintain a strong password—"password" or "wireless123" is just not going to cut it anymore.
Be careful out there. As it turns out, humans are often jerks when given the ability to be lazy criminals.