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We’ve all been there: At the airport two hours too early, waiting for a flight that’s delayed due to some bad weather in Chicago. You’re sick of fiddling around with your smartphone, and both your tablet and laptop are Wi-Fi only. What to do? Why, fork over a few bucks for Boingo Wi-Fi hotspot service, of course!
Boingo is one of the world’s largest public Wi-Fi providers, with more than 500,000 hotspots around the world, from the United States to Zambia. And, as with nearly anything these days, Boingo requires each and every user to agree to its terms of service before it grants Internet access. Don’t agree? Don’t connect.
Boingo’s customer agreement lays things out quite clearly. And much of it is numbingly boring stuff — details that you could more or less assume simply by signing up for the service: most of it covers the basics of paying for a service (e.g. you must provide correct billing information), and a few limitations (e.g. a “Boingo Unlimited” plan only allows you to access Boingo Wi-Fi from a maximum of two devices). There’s not much more to it than that.
The one section that all users should be aware of, however, is the “Acceptable Use Policy” portion of the Customer Agreement. Here, Boingo starts by pointing out that it has absolutely no control over the content you find on the Web. Boingo also says that it does not actively monitor your online activity. That said, there are a number of only activities you may not do while using Boingo Wi-Fi. The key restrictions are as follows.
- No porn. Nope, not even a little porn
- No downloading pirated content
- No sending spam
- No hacking Boingo, or any other sites or services
- No using Boingo as your home Wi-Fi (if you happen to live next to a hotspot)
- No stalking, harassing, threatening, or spying on other people, especially children
There is one restriction that completely and totally stumped me: you must agree not “to disrupt the normal flow of dialogue, cause a screen to ‘scroll’ faster than other users of the Service are able to type, or otherwise act in a manner that negatively affects other users’ ability to engage in real time exchanges.”
Um, what? You can’t scroll too fast?
Dumbfounded, I called Boingo to see if they could crack this riddle. Unfortunately, the people I spoke with had never heard of this provision — if fact, they admitted that they had never even read the Customer Agreement themselves. (Ha!) So, the mystery remains. If you have any idea what this could possibly mean, or why such a clause would appear in Acceptable Use Policy, give me a ring — I’m dying to know.
Remaining sections in the document basically say that you may not use Boingo’s services, trademarks, or software to make money for yourself.
Unlike so many online services, Boingo is incredibly protective of your privacy and your personal information — as they should be. And the amount of information Boingo collects about you is fairly standard.
Collecting your data
Still, Boingo does collect some information about you and your use of its service. Some of this information you provide directly to Boingo, other bits can be derived from your use of the service. Here’s the information Boingo will collect on you:
- Credit/debit card number
- Billing address
- Phone number
- Email address
- Geolocation data (which Boingo hotspots you use)
- When and where you sign up to use Boingo
- Where you exit the signup process. (If you choose not to sign up for Boingo in the middle of the signup process, Boingo wants to know about it.)
- Which website you used to arrive on Boingo’s site (search engine, advertisement on another site, etc)
Boingo will also use Web beacons to serve you advertisements.
Finally, Boingo often performs user surveys in order to collect more demographic data about its users. You don’t have to hand over this information (and I would advise you not to, though most of it is probably already available on the Web, especially if you use any social networks). The information they ask you to hand over includes:
- Travel information (frequency, destinations, which mode of transport you use)
Sharing your data
- If Boingo is required by law to hand over your data (e.g. if Boingo is served a warrant for your account or usage data)
- If Boingo suspects that you’ve committed fraud while using its Wi-Fi, in which case your data will be handed over to the police
- If you contact Boingo, and your inquiry requires the company to follow up with you
As mentioned, Boingo sometimes participates in promotions that involve third-party companies. Some of your data (like name and email address) may be shared for those purposes. However, you can opt-out of all Boingo promotions: click here and enter your email address.
One excellent aspect of Boingo is its opposition to any spam emails. The company promises to never “sell customer information to e-mail lists or telemarketers.” And if you believe the information you provided to Boingo was ever use for this purpose, just email Boingo (info@Boingo.com), and the company swears to “immediately investigate” the matter, “and if appropriate, discontinue services with such parties.”
Overall, I was quite impressed with the clarity of Boingo’s legal documents, and with its limited collection and sharing of user information. All in all, I’d say go ahead and click “agree” without worry.
Image via Aquir/Shutterstock