Not From Toronto

Home » Archives » January 2005 » the ethics of wifi

[Previous entry: "sudden employment"] [Next entry: "The Truth About Recruiters"]

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.

Replies: 4 Comments

on Thursday, January 27th, Robert Hahn said

I'm having trouble seeing the trouble.

See, if your neighbor is nice and everything, then maybe, just maybe she'll say "go ahead, surf for free - just be considerate, ok?"

At any rate, the TOS for Rogers states 'no reselling or sharing your service with other homes', so one good way to get your neighbor in trouble is to keep doing what you're doing. It would be difficult for Rogers to 'tell', but if they cared enough about the problem, it actually wouldn't be that hard to figure out.

And if it's really that hard to resist the urge to surf on your neighbor's bandwith, call me over, I'll show you how to remove the airport card.

PS: in case some PC troll drops by, I'd like to explain that Apple doesn't have it's own 'version' of wifi called Airport -- the wifi is based on the same standards (and hardware!) PC's use. Airport is merely a brand. It's like saying the Miata is Mazda's version of the car. The problem with that analogy is that everyone understands that all cars can use the same road.

PPS: Ska, you'll wish you had more HD space about 1 hour into making your first DVD home movie. Trust me. I'm speaking from experience.

PPPS: still (anxiously) waiting for my mini mac... ;)

on Saturday, February 5th, xhead said

PC troll!? There are no such things...


on Saturday, February 5th, xhead said

oh yeah, I meant to offer my $0.02.

I think you should tell your neighbour. Offer to pay her monthly or perhaps in exchange for services, like helping her to get their network secured, cutting grass, a pie, whatever.

When we were in Edmonton last weekend, we happened along the same thing - we were staying with church friends, and one of their neighbours had WiFi. We piggy-backed for about 10 minutes a day, just to catch up on email.

No remorse.

on Thursday, February 10th, WFD said

Speaking as someone who currently runs an unsecured wifi network at home (more in a min) I think I would appreciate my neighbor telling me and I'd probably let them continue to use it even if I passworded it just for being honest.

Okay now for why I have an unsecured wifi network (as an IT guy I'm suppose to know better). What it came down to in making my decision to run unsecure is two items. The first is the fact that I live on a dead end dirt road with my nearest neighbor well out of range and very very technically inept.

The second reason and really the biggest reason was the fact that there are 3 laptops in the house with that number going up depending on who is visiting for the weekend. All of these laptops are PCs but one of them uses a USB Wifi card and Win2K and for some reason it wont accept WPA security. All the others work fine with WPA but are sometimes a little sketchy with WEP. My router wont let anyone connect if I allow both security measures and that leaves me with someone who lives there and pays part of the bills not being able to access the internet until I switch the security for them which is a pain. There is also the added problem if we both want to connect at the same time which is a frequent occurance. So for simplicitys sake and due in part to my remote location I run security free but I never would in the city.

New! RSS Feed!
2004 and on
Dave Howlett's WOMBLOG
Mobuzz TV
Stu's Travels
Warpfish Stories
Mike Diehl
Church Dude

January 2005

Listed on BlogsCanada