How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide

How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide
Free Wi-Fi

This year, privacy concerns returned to the fore. In April, a man smashed 42 kiosks over several days. The Police Department shared video of the so-called “smash spree,” which had clearly been captured by a kiosk, alerting the public to built-in cameras (each kiosk has three) — and raising questions about what other data CityBridge was gathering and who might be able to access it.
CityBridge has repeatedly assured the public that it is committed to privacy. The company is not collecting or storing user data, a spokesman for the company told me, nor does it track what websites users visit or employ user data to create targeted ads. Video footage is intended to deter vandalism and is kept for only a week. The company also said it is not using facial recognition software. And no audio is being recorded or stored, they say.
The company shares information with authorities only when required by subpoena or court order. (In the case of the smash spree, video footage was shared with police to protect the system, the spokesman said.)
In May, however, a college student discovered code on GitHub, a platform for sharing software code, that appeared to indicate that LinkNYC was collecting location data. CityBridge denied it, saying the code was intended for research and development purposes, and contained employees’ data only. But the discovery further stoked fears about LinkNYC.
Menacing signs began appearing on some kiosks. One warned people they were being videotaped. Another said, “No Big Brother Plz, Thx,” and was signed by an activist group, Rethink Link. The quiet protests have continued: I spotted graffiti scrawled in Sharpie on some kiosks that said, “Google is not your friend.” (Sidewalk Labs, which is owned by Google’s parent company, is a lead investor in Intersection, part of the CityBridge consortium.)
The mayor’s office has stood behind CityBridge. A spokeswoman, Laura Feyer, said in a statement last week that “privacy is central to the LinkNYC program” and “CityBridge is not allowed to sell data or track the movements of users, period.” As for the uneven geographic distribution of the kiosks, Ms. Feyer said, “We are disappointed that CityBridge has not fulfilled recent deployment targets and will continue to use every power we have to ensure the program can deliver results for all New Yorkers.”
Yet the city has not verified that CityBridge is complying with the privacy piece of its franchise agreement. At a public hearing about the state’s proposed consumer privacy bill on Nov. 22, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan, asked Michael Pastor, general counsel of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which oversees LinkNYC, about the kiosks. He said the city had not conducted a privacy audit of CityBridge, but that it would.
How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide How Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Expose New York’s Digital Divide Reviewed by Sanju singh on December 06, 2019 Rating: 5

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