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Attitudes to Wi-Fi

We focused on one area in London to understand how people use free Wi-Fi. We chose Bethnal Green because its residents are demographically and economically diverse.

People use free Wi-Fi to save their mobile data

Out of the 50 people we spoke to, 82% had accessed free Wi-Fi before and could tell us about the last time they used it. Respondents told us they used free Wi-Fi to save their mobile data, or because their mobile data had run out.

Someone we spoke to relied solely on using free Wi-Fi because they did not have internet access at home or a mobile data package. They used it to contact family abroad using a number of apps, and said that it cost a lot of money until they started using free Wi-Fi.

Various people with the phone they have

We spoke to people in Bethnal Green (Image: IF, CC-BY)

People see free Wi-Fi as having no cost

One participant talked about connecting to free Wi-Fi all the time because they couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t when it was free. The people we spoke to believed they were getting a service without giving anything up, and didn't think about browsing, location or other personal data as something they exchanged for access.

People expect fluid connectivity

We discovered that people were using free Wi-Fi in lots of different types of spaces. We recorded 16 different categories of space, from restaurants to libraries to airports. There seemed to be an expectation that people would be able to find a connection anywhere they went, and were becoming used to just that. For example, the last time one participant used free Wi-Fi they were going to see a friend. They were messaging them when they walked into the tube station using their mobile network, and then joined the Wi-Fi network on the tube to carry on messaging them at every station along the way.

A person on a zebra crossing, looking at their phone

There's an expectation of Wi-Fi everywhere (Image: IF, CC-BY)

People's use of the internet changes depending what kind of network they're using

Some people mentioned security concerns as a reason for avoiding free Wi-Fi networks, but when asked for more details they spoke vaguely about why. One participant felt something might be stolen but didn’t know what.

A few participants said they wouldn’t check their bank accounts on a shared or public networks. One person said that was because they had watched BBC television series The Hustle and had seen an account being hacked via a free Wi-Fi network.

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