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Swarm Mobile's Offer: Free Wi-Fi In Exchange For Some Privacy 121

Posted by timothy
from the tradeoffs-tradeoffs dept.
cagraham writes "Startup Swarm Mobile intends to help physical retailers counter online shopping habits by collecting data on their customer's actions. Swarm's platform integrates with store's Wifi networks in order to monitor what exactly customers are doing while shopping. In exchange for collecting analytics, shoppers get access to free internet. Swarm then send reports to the store owners, detailing how many customers checked prices online, or compared rival products on their phones. Their platform also allows stores to directly send discount codes or coupons to shopper's phones."
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Swarm Mobile's Offer: Free Wi-Fi In Exchange For Some Privacy

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  • Die in a fire (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:58PM (#45585979) Homepage Journal

    Your stupid mind control techniques don't need more information from spying on us, they need to go away forever.

  • Those who would (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:59PM (#45586005)
    Whose who would exchange privacy for a little internet access deserve neither.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Who are you to tell me what information I should voluntarily provide or for what reasons I should provide it?

      This isn't the government snooping on my online activities and denying it. This is me willfully entering into an agreement with a service provider.

    • I couldn't have said it better myself.
    • Only the sith deal in absolutes.
  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:01PM (#45586029)
    If I'm using a phone, what the heck do I need free Wi-Fi for? The darn phone already has an internet connection.
    • by duckintheface (710137) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:21PM (#45586345)

      I carry a phone with no contract or data plan. I can text and surf only from wifi.

    • The fact that 4G LTE (if you can get it) is at best 300 Mb/s down and 75 Mb/s up, while 802.11n is 600 Mb/s bi-directional?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by oodaloop (1229816)
        Yeah, I guess if you're uploading lots of selfies while browsing a store, you might want to trade your privacy for much better up speed.
        • Or if you're just watching Netflix. The advantage may not be as big downstream, but double the data rate still isn't to be sneezed at.

          • When I'm in a store, I'm attentive toward doing precisely whatever the fuck it takes for me to get out of there sooner. The last thing on my mind is leisurely enjoying netflix on a screen the approximate size of a post-it note.
          • Or if you're just watching Netflix. The advantage may not be as big downstream, but double the data rate still isn't to be sneezed at.

            You're joking, right? Netflix in HD runs at a MAX of about 6Mbps. On a phone-sized screen, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between that and a 1Mbps stream. 300Mbps vs. 600Mbps is like debating whether you need a 747 or an A380 to deliver a 10 pound package.

      • That's 600m shared between up and down, shared between all users connected to the access point.

      • by mspohr (589790)

        My ATT DSL is 3 Mb/s down and 300 Kb/s up, you insensitive clod.

      • Why the hell would anyone need even 75 megs down for comparison pricing while in a store?!

      • by Holi (250190)

        and the retailers internet connection is probably dsl so that fancy 802.11n is still going to be slower then your LTE.

    • What's wrong here is that you're either generalizing from your own experience, or you're just pulling a complaint from your backside.

      Inside a big box store, my phone's (cellular) internet connection is often shakey-to-non-existent. (Not to mention, if I'm using someone else's wi-fi, I',m not running the meter on my own data plan.)

    • by zlives (2009072)

      Don't worry citizen, the mall operates a local wireless cell and "already got all your innifo"

      • by Holi (250190)

        That would be highly illegal to the tune of multiple felonies and jail time for those involved.
         

    • by fermion (181285)
      For me this is the question. I have unlimited 4G, so the store wifi does not always provide value. I will sometimes bring my tablet, which has limited 3G, so the store Wifi is valuable there. But if I am using my tablet I am not really shopping, just waiting around for others. Not a problem as the store still gets my money, but they get no real data on my movements or whatever.

      But I think the point about why we need wifi when we have 4G is important in that it provides a base for the expected service.

  • I don't have any privacy to give up. Every last site on the internet already connects to Facebook and Google and every other "social" service already. There's nothing for me to trade them. I'm tracked 24-7 already. To late. I have nothing more to offer you.

    It's like they're asking for the soul I already sold.

    That said, I'll take your WiFi access, as long as I can get my auto-fill app on 'droid to fill out your EULA page automatically.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Every last site on the internet already connects to Facebook and Google and every other "social" service already.

      Privacy extensions like Ghostery and NoScript are your friend.

      I've got Google and Facebook blocked wherever I can. I'm not here to provide them with information about what I do on the internet. Some things are blocked at the firewall, and simply can't be resolved in my house.

      • by mythosaz (572040) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:23PM (#45586365)

        Every last site on the internet already connects to Facebook and Google and every other "social" service already.

        Privacy extensions like Ghostery and NoScript are your friend.

        I've got Google and Facebook blocked wherever I can. I'm not here to provide them with information about what I do on the internet. Some things are blocked at the firewall, and simply can't be resolved in my house.

        They're not my friend. I'm not losing one second of sleep about being tracked. I went all-in a couple of years ago, and the thought police haven't descended from their black helicopters yet. I'm content to be the product that Google offers it's customers. I get a pretty good return on these services. I'm happy to be able to comment on some forum random forum quickly with my Facebook account. I'm happy to have Google give me a preemptive traffic update because it knows my schedule. I'm pleased that my games keep my scores and friends cross-platform and through device upgrades.

        When my ISP started serving up ads when I mistyped a URL, I even switched to 8.8.8.8 for my DNS.

        Screw it. Google can have my data. I wasn't using it anyway.

        • by sinij (911942)

          >>> the thought police haven't descended from their black helicopters yet.

          What about *-ism Internet lynch mob that would make you unemployable by disproportionally and retroactively applying arbitrary social standards? Make sure to never make any jokes that could be misunderstood, especially about forking builds and dongles. What about political views? I am sure you agree with every political creed, from tree-hugging hippies to anarcho-libertarian conservatives and nobody would ever take

          • by mythosaz (572040)

            What about *-ism Internet lynch mob that would make you unemployable by disproportionally [sic] and retroactively applying arbitrary social standards?

            What about them?

            Welcome to the internet. Everything here is forever.

            I'm not going to live in fear of having ideas and thoughts of my own. I regularly speak my mind and regularly express unpopular opinions. I live with the consequences of my actions -- you know, like an adult.

            Since I don't live in fear of the internet boogeyman, I don't mind letting someone see my browsing history in exchange for (more) free WiFi.

            If I want privacy, I know how to get it.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Doesn't work. If they are using deep packet inspection, they will know exactly what you are looking. The only option is to only use ssl.

        • by http (589131)
          If ever you have a future need to step out from the herd and speak against the elite in favour of justice or truth (or anything at all that said future elite don't like), that tracking provides myraid opportunities for your voice to be discredited if you show signs of getting any significant traction.
          The thought police don't have to send helicopters. You have given them the remote controls for your suicide belt.
      • by Culture20 (968837)
        requestpolicy isn't too shabby either.
        • I don't think that one is compatible with the mobile version of Firefox yet, unfortunately. (Neither is NoScript, for that matter, although Ghostery apparently is.)

    • I don't have any privacy to give up ... as long as I can get my auto-fill app on 'droid to fill out your EULA page automatically.

      If you agree to EULAs without at least skimming them for privacy-infringing conditions, I hope you aren't seriously surprised when your privacy is thereby infringed.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Wait, you voluntarily connected to Facebook and Google already?

  • by koan (80826)

    These days most of these services give the vibe of "watch what your pets are up to" like some sort of kitty cam but for squeezing every last cent out of the shopping cattle.

    In other words all this crap is just a giant cattle monitoring system for retailers and other corporations.

    *just make it shiny and they will use it*

  • by lagomorpha2 (1376475) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:02PM (#45586057)

    So I can use this to connect to a VPN and get free internet access without any invasion of my privacy? I like it.

  • This is another reason to have a VPN ready. I don't think this technology is really new... just a repackage of looking at HTTP streams for marketing reasons.

    I tend to use a VPN on any public Wi-Fi, and this just adds even more reason to. If the local place blocks it, that is their perogative and their store.

    • by faedle (114018)

      They're still getting valuable data. As I understand it, part of what they're doing is using your physical location in the store triangulated from your phone. While using a VPN does limit SOME of the information they're gathering, it doesn't eliminate all of it.

  • Tough ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:04PM (#45586107) Homepage

    It's things like this why the wifi on my phone is disabled when I'm not using it, and why I don't have a data plan.

    Measure that bitches. Because I'm sure as hell not providing you with the information.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Because I'm sure as hell not providing you with the information.

      Nor yourself with much functionality.

      • Ermagerd, I'm without Internet access for entire minutes at a time!!! Cry me a river.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Nor yourself with much functionality.

        I provide myself with precisely the functionality I require, which is plenty good for me.

        I can go without checking my email while I'm shopping. In fact, I've been known to go an entire day without using the interwebs -- because I understand that it's just a tool, and not actually vital every moment of the day.

        And, from what I can tell, mobile internet on a phone is more than I'm willing to spend, and is mostly just a way to see even more ads and crap like that. Or, app

        • by icebike (68054)

          So, fear of the unknown then?

          I've really never seen any indication at all that the retailers are doing anything any different when I have my phone with me than when I don't.
          They don't offer me any better deals tailored to what I came in to buy, they don't target advertising at me, certainly not at my phone, nor to I
          get any spam from them.

          They might be getting smarter about their prices, knowing what the competition's prices are, but they don't need any information from me to
          get that.

          In short, you seem very

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            No, I have a stunning lack of trust in retailers and analytics companies.

            I simply refuse to provide them with data to make money from me when I don't need to.

            Free wi-fi in stores so they can track what you do and come up with more analytics? No thanks. I don't need their wi-fi that badly, and don't especially care that they have better marketing information.

            You are free to choose to do whatever the hell you like. Me, I choose to exercise my choice by denying them information that I don't need to provide

            • Re:Tough ... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad...arnett@@@notforhire...org> on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @02:00PM (#45586815)

              So when the sales clerk asks for my zip code or my phone number or anything else they don't legally need, I just look at them and say "nope". If they occasionally insist (because they're idiots who have been coached to say they 'need' it), I will simply walk away from the cash register.

              That's unnecesarily confrontational, means you've lost the time sunk into being in the store to being with, and puts a burden on the poor moron who's just trying to get through another day at their miserable-ass job

              You should just realize that priv^H^H^H^Hdata-analytics is a myth, accept it, and proceed to teach them by polluting their databases with as many fake ZIP codes as you can muster. The liquor store up the street from me thinks they get visitors from Illinois, New York, Flordia, Washington state, and occasionally Alaska. My motto is "Bad data is worse than no data."

              I honestly stopped being that worried about Amazon and Google when I realized that I could make their recommendations reflect things I wouldn't have ever considered buying without actually buying anything I didn't feel like. Just looked at it, actually. Yerp, recommendations include diapers and doublesided tape. I'm single and have no kids (and not incontient), and well, doublesided tape. Hah.

              • by CCarrot (1562079)

                You should just realize that priv^H^H^H^Hdata-analytics is a myth, accept it, and proceed to teach them by polluting their databases with as many fake ZIP codes as you can muster. The liquor store up the street from me thinks they get visitors from Illinois, New York, Flordia, Washington state, and occasionally Alaska. My motto is "Bad data is worse than no data."

                "So many visitors from Beverly Hills! Everyone today has the zip code 90210, it's amazing!" :)

                Unfortunately there's no equivalent Canadian TV show that uses the postal code in the title. "Ottawa K1A 0A9" just doesn't have the same ring to it...and would be dreadfully boring, in any case. Until they start shouting at one another on the House floor like spoiled children...then it's just embarrassing. I suppose Canadians could start peppering the tracking DB's with Santa's postal code: H0H 0H0...

            • by tlhIngan (30335)

              No, I have a stunning lack of trust in retailers and analytics companies.

              I simply refuse to provide them with data to make money from me when I don't need to.

              So you basically don't shop online, that is?

              All the retailers are doing is trying to at least get on par with what online retailers are getting, because face it, being an online retailer rocks.

              First, less staff, less cost (your warehouse can be anywhere that's cheap). Plus you get piles of analytics - Amazon probably has the shopping habits of most of

        • I've been known to go an entire day without using the interwebs... from what I can tell, mobile internet on a phone is more than I'm willing to spend

          I do exactly the opposite: my cellphone has pretty much only a data plan (5GB of 4G, with unlimited 3G after that, but only 100 voice minutes), so I make all my calls over VoIP. For $30/month, I'm getting a more useful connection than the chumps paying Verizon $100/month get.

          I do apparently need to start directing my mobile data through a VPN, though...

  • Whenever I connect to a free wifi hot spot at a major retailer, I do so fully accepting that they are sniffing the traffic. This is why I only use it to price check online. Let's them know that their customers are keeping track of them in that way.
    • by mythosaz (572040)

      Ironically, this is exactly what this service is offering the retailer -- better snooping into exactly that sort of browsing. The retailer wants to know which of their products are getting surfed for alternative buying.

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        The retailer wants to know which of their products are getting surfed for alternative buying.

        Uhh... all of them?

    • by icebike (68054)

      Exactly.

      All my email or other uses of their wifi is encrypted already, and the only thing left for them to sniff is unencrypted pages from third party sellers. Even my google searches are encrypted, so they get nothing from that either.

      You can't proxy ssl. And I suspect all this service really does is route everything through Swarm Mobile's transparent proxy. Most stores simply don't have the expertise to deal with basic traffic analysis let alone deep packet inspection, so they hire Swarm.

      But as more an

      • by rk (6314)

        you can't proxy ssl

        To use our service, please install our "accelerator" package that also adds our certificate to your phone. Boom. I can now proxy SSL. I wouldn't install such a thing, you probably wouldn't do it either, most people here on /. wouldn't do it, but how many "normals" would, with the promise of "Free Wifi at thousands of locations!" not understanding that their mobile device's whole security model is now compromised?

        • by dalias (1978986)
          I would hope all major browsers would blacklist these certificates like they blacklist malware plugins/extensions.
      • by mlts (1038732) *

        You can proxy SSL. BlueCoat sells devices which do exactly that.

        Of course, the root key will be different, but of all the users using a Wi-fi service, how many will stop what they are doing, versus click on the "bah, toss the key into the trusted root keystore regardless of security and let me proceed" button.

        I don't think this is what Swarm Mobile is doing, but if someone did try MITM-ing SSL streams, I would not be surprised if they had some success.

  • Sure you can use my wifi for free, but how are you going to enhance my privacy?

  • I love to use my OpenVPN server on port 443 at home, or http tunnel. Any people complaining here about loss of privacy and so on: are you really surfing on any public AP, be it McD, library, etc without the protection of a VPN/tunnel of some sort? If so then you are not allowed to complain about privacy loss. And if you do: why do you care, you just got another free AP in the city, saving your preciousss MBs on the mobile plan! Yay!

    • by mythosaz (572040)

      I love to use my OpenVPN server on port 443 at home, or http tunnel. Any people complaining here about loss of privacy and so on: are you really surfing on any public AP, be it McD, library, etc without the protection of a VPN/tunnel of some sort? If so then you are not allowed to complain about privacy loss. And if you do: why do you care, you just got another free AP in the city, saving your preciousss MBs on the mobile plan! Yay!

      I think most of us just don't care.

      I'm willing to use McDonald's WiFi if it's faster than whatever data I'm getting at the time. I don't give two craps if if they know where I surfed or if I signaled the Candy Crush server that I completed level 263.

      I imagine I'm like most users in that regard.

      • by Aaden42 (198257)

        Observed Traffic Pattern: Candy Crush level 263

        Analyzing . . .

        User Profile: Addictive personality, drug seeking.

        Marketing Plan: Serve coupon for free fries with McHog Burger purchase.

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          You post is funny, but that's exactly what I'm happy to have.

          I'm smart enough to know if purchasing the new McHog is a good idea or not -- and I might just get free fries with it because I've submitted to the will of my Googly master.

      • by swb (14022)

        McDonald's wifi is usually horribly slow for me. I do much better off LTE than their wifi.

    • Re:Bring it on! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mlts (1038732) * on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:26PM (#45586421)

      VPNs should be a matter of course for anyone using Wi-Fi (barring their home/work networks, of course.) FireSheep type attacks are not as big an attack as in the past, but there are still things one can do, be it Phorm-like modification of HTTP streams in flight (perhaps injecting malware) to DNS hijacking (and there are people who will completely ignore the obvious SSL warnings and proceed no matter what, even stashing the bogus key in their root cert pool.)

      VPNs are not perfect. However, having traffic slowed or stopped is a less of an issue than having it modified in flight or just plain snooped.

  • I used to be into free WiFi but over the last few years it has become a chore, with more and more places (even smaller stores) replacing unprotected WiFi routers with these annoying systems that make you login with an email address or force you to accept their terms and conditions.

    With mobile data plans veering towards truly unlimited (at least in the UK) and mobile data speeds even surpassing that of home broadband, there is less of a need for these free WiFi solutions. And whilst there are some places, li

    • by mlts (1038732) *

      It is that way across the pond with systems that demand you create a user account for "free" access, or at best are unusable because someone else is using it for their torrents.

      Here, the tragedy of the commons is in full swing, so some retailers (especially cafes) actually turn off their public APs from 11-2 to deter table campers (people who buy a drink, then sit at a table for hours during the busy lunch rush.)

      Unfortunately, unlimited mobile plans are going the opposite way in the US... Sprint killed all

  • Are the store customers informed about what they are giving up in return for free Internet access (which many already have via their cellular provider)? Do they understand it? (Also, is it personally identifiable information?)

    One issue that makes me doubt the 'nobody cares about privacy' argument is that the organizations collecting information, including governments and businesses, are so secretive about it. Some disclose in long agreements that they know nobody reads, but very rarely do they really inform

  • More and more websites are moving to HTTPS. That means snooping only goes down the to IP address level. They'll have no idea what people are looking at on ebay.com or amazon.com

  • for 20 years now the internet has been increasingly about 'free $X for some privacy" and its a model we've all gladly accepted and the concerned hackers among us protested. the cost of hosting and the cost of engineering are oft cited reasons to employ this deep-dive marketing horseshit but for some of us, the salary alone seems to suggest hosting and marketing online are trivially inexpensive. So sure, if you want me to use your service how about I attach a condition. You can have some of my privacy, if
  • If you give people your data you can't really complain when they use it. I (almost) never use free wi-fi without firing up my VPN.

    After putting way more effort into it than I normally do for such things I ended up with iVPN. Very happy with them. (no it's not a commercial and I have no interest blah blah blah, but there are dozens of companies and most of them are total crap. So this is my a public service advice).

  • If you read the EULA on free wifi portals, many of them already collect info on you. Even if you don't connect to any, many stores will track your movement by your adapter's MAC address. This is why I disable my phone's wifi adapter entirely when I'm not using it now. Saves a lot of battery too.

Truth is free, but information costs.

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