China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

Summary: In an effort to promote internet usage and create a 'wireless city', Beijing is adding new Wi-Fi hotspots to public areas like shopping malls and stations.

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In an effort to increase web use amongst residents, Beijing is launching a series of new Wi-Fi hotspots in major public areas.

China's capital city already has free Wi-Fi areas across seven districts, but wants to offer more free wireless in public areas like shopping malls and subway stations. This week several shopping centers in the Shijingshan district began offering wireless services, with many more planned to follow.

City officials say they want Beijing to be a leading "wireless city" on the world stage.

Mao Dongjun, a director at the Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology, said the Wi-Fi networks are intended as a public service for residents.

"The telecom operators have developed so many networks, we hope that users can experience and enjoy them", Mao said.

These free networks do, however, come with a catch. Users are required to register with a mobile phone, giving them access to a password that gives them three hours of network use. Although Mao assured that this personal data would be safe, this might not reassure some users.

This is standard protocol for using networks in China; with photo ID required to use computers in Internet cafés, and phone numbers required to log on at Starbucks for example.

However, handing over a mobile number to use the networks would potentially allow activities and browsing to be tracked. Censorship and scrutiny are nothing new to Chinese web users, but providing a number and a physical location would allow for even tighter observation.

At this point none of the networks will be operated by the City Government themselves, but by three state-owned telecom operators. The government is compensating for the costs of running the networks, which will be available free for at least three years.

It is somewhat ironic that a country with a history of censorship and tight regulations over the Internet would be so invested in encouraging its use.

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Topics: Mobility, Browser, Networking, China, Wi-Fi

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8 comments
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  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    LOL, this is brilliant... brilliantly evil... a government can effectively censor the internet without employing any strong-arm tactics by merely offering the censored/datamined WiFi network for free. You want the full experience? pay for it! You want the internet as we want you to see it? Sure, comarade... it's FREE!
    dsf3g
  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    It's interesting when you consider "capital" is used as

    (a) net worth (or money, accounting)
    (b) an uppercase letter
    (c) a primary city (or serving seat for a government)

    Especially if the city's rulers are bought and paid for. :)
    HypnoToad72
  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    Well Duh!!!!
    partman1969@...
    • LOL!

      @partman1969@...
      My reaction, too. :)
      William Farrell
  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    Yup,
    good way to keep track of the user with the registration.
    Don't be exploring the wrong site or trying out some free speech.
    For those that are not "anarchists" it would be nice.
    I like to explore and research way too much, I would be concerned a bit.
    MoeFugger
  • Those in the know will find a way around

    Burner phone + VPN. Problem solved.
    PacoBell
  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    LOL I love the way everyone looks at China and it's censorship/tracking and shakes their heads or fists.

    As if our governments don't do the same!

    and as for "provide an internet so that they can control it", welcome to Australia's new NBN ;) Watch THIS space I tell you.
    eLearner
  • RE: China opens 'free' public Wi-Fi; Faces scrutiny over tracking, censorship

    I am a bit puzzled by this article. Is is another attempt to China Bash? Or are you speaking of the benefits of free wi-fi being offered in a not so developed country which we don't see so much of in the Western world. Personally, I would applaud the free wi-fi and keep in mind that the US and other countries are already tracking every action with their big data and unstructured data programs. If you look into what is happening in that space, I think that the real fear should be right at home.
    HardTruth