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Privacy alert: Your public Wi-Fi conversations could be used against you

Privacy alert: Your public Wi-Fi conversations could be used against you
photo courtesy of LInkNYC

If you're in, or have recently visited New York City, you may have noticed that those old coin-operated phones have been replaced with super high-speed, gigabyte Wi-Fi hotspots, all thanks to a company called CityBridge.

With the free Wi-Fi service, known as LinkNYC, anyone in NYC can connect to the Internet for free from an Internet-connected smartphone, tablet, computer, or smartwatch. You don't have to stand at the Wi-Fi hotspots either; you can access the free Wi-Fi from up to 150 feet away. Some even have charging stations, which can be a lifesaver.

Sound too good to be true? As always there's a catch. Yes, you can get free Wi-Fi to do whatever you want with, but be warned that CityBridge will collect quite a bit of information about you.

It promises to keep your information anonymous and to not sell it to anyone. However, the information collected is a potential gold mine that includes user names, passwords, IP address, email address, device identifiers and more.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has sounded the alarm, calling for New York residents to be aware that there are major strings attached to using LinkNYC's service, especially since there are plans for as many as 10,000 free Wi-Fi kiosks throughout the city. According to the NYCLU's press release: 

“The sheer volume of information gathered by this powerful network will create a massive database of information that will present attractive opportunities for hackers and for law enforcement surveillance, and will carry an undue risk of abuse, misuse and unauthorized access."

On top of that, the NYCLU also pointed out that data collected stays in the system almost indefinitely:

"CityBridge’s privacy policy only offers to make “reasonable efforts” to clear out this massive amount of personally identifiable user information, and even then, only if there have been 12 months of user inactivity. New Yorkers who use LinkNYC regularly will have their personally identifiable information stored for a lifetime and beyond."

But CityBridge is sticking to its guns. Jen Hensley, general manager of LinkNYC told the Huffington Post that the company "would require a subpoena or similar lawful request before sharing any data with the NYPD or law enforcement, and we will make every effort to communicate government requests to impacted users."

Hensley also assured The Huffington Post that CityBridge has proper security in place to keep their users' information safe. The sentiment was also echoed by a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The entire argument comes at the heels of the Apple vs. FBI debate and whether the American people should give up their privacy for their security. Where do you stand? Let us know by posting in the comments below.

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