01/27/2005: "the ethics of wifi"
When my wife's new Apple Powerbook G4 arrived earlier this month, we were both excited. Not only did it represent a fully functional computer that is actually up-to-date and chock full of handy software, but it meant we could finally ditch the ugly beige box, monitor, keyboard, and the kilometers of wires that accompanied the whole mess.
Little did we know that it would also bring up an ethical dilemma.
The Powerbook comes with a bunch of neat features. It comes standard with half a gig of memory, a hard drive that I doubt we'll ever come close to filling, the uber-cool DVD-burning Superdrive, Bluetooth, and of course Apple's version of wifi called Airport. We plan on turning our home movies into DVDs with the Superdrive, will eventually get the Bluetooth adapter for our printer so we can print from anywhere in the house, and of course it being a laptop with a DVD player, we've watched a few movies snuggled up in bed. The Airport, however, has been a mixed blessing.
We don't own an Airport base station, which we could hook up to our phone line and wirelessly use our dial-up account. A base station will be on our Christmas list at some point. Of course, despite the fact that we had no reason to turn it on, I turned on Airport just to see what would happen. The first time, nothing happened. Although we live in a high-tech city, no wifi networks were detected near our home. I figured that was the end of it, but a few days later decided (for whatever reason) to turn it on again. Lo and behold - a few networks showed up!
I tried the first one, and was prompted for a password. No dice there. I tried the second one, and again was prompted for a password. The third one, however... it accepted me. Suddenly I found myself with free access to wireless broadband. As you can well imagine, I may as well have smoked crack. I was hooked.
The question then became, where is this network coming from? Living on a street of densely-packed townhouses, the 50m range of typical wifi meant that there were many, many homes that our newfound wifi portal could be eminating from.
Then, one day I had the bright idea to check out what shows up under "network" when I'm getting my broadband fix. Sure enough, two other computers show up. One was cryptically named "m200", but the other had the owner's full name as the computer name. As it turns out, it's my next-door neighbour.
I know from talking to my neighbour a couple years back that she's on Rogers cable broadband. Last year she decided to take in a couple of students, and I guess she opted for a wireless network instead of running cables all throughout her house. It also appears that she didn't set up a password, or any other security, which means that I can tap into her cable anytime I want.
I like my neighbour, so I'm not going to abuse this newfound resource. I'm not about to download gigs of kiddie porn (or gigs of anything for that matter), but I will use it to download things that will take far too long over dialup (pretty much any file over a megabyte).
Of course, this brings up an ethical question. Should I tell her? I had every intention of telling her shortly after I discovered it, and help her set up a password to ensure her network is secure. Somehow, I just haven't gotten around to doing that yet. I've also been pondering asking if we can pay her a small amount per month to keep access... but again, I still haven't talked to her yet.
I know in my heart of hearts that I should tell her, but I also know that doing so risks my access to free-to-me broadband. I suppose I should simply ask myself why I want broadband so much,, and figure out if I can do without. If not, I need to ask her to sell me access, or get it for myself.
I'll ask next time I see her... maybe.