Thousands sign up to paint snail shells and clean portaloos in exchange for free WiFi
4 min read
14 July 2017
While GDPR will penalise companies for lengthy terms and conditions, it's also up to the customer to read them. You may otherwise end up agreeing to clean portaloos.
It’s all been said before: We work long hours and often fail to disconnect when we get home. Our corporate duty follows us out onto the high street, with most checking emails via free WiFi while at restaurants and shops.
From a business perspective, it’s become incredibly lucrative to wield free WiFi as a customer attraction tool. As was explained in a Real Business interview with Andrew Gibson, senior manager at Virgin Media Business: “A café offering fast, free internet would be more appealing to an entrepreneur waiting around for a meeting than one that charges, or has poor connectivity.
“There is no need to move on if it’s free and it’s fast here. So, I’ll stay longer, spending more and come back again. And whilst I’m here I’ll let everyone know I’m here and tell them why it’s great. Perhaps in the future I’ll arrange to meet people here, confident that I can kill time while I’m waiting and get in touch if there are problems, and tell my network of screen addicts to visit.”
But the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), set to be introduced 25 May 2018, will strengthen the conditions for consent. Transparency and a lack of jargon is also among government expectations.
Though the responsibility lies chiefly on companies, it also rests on our shoulders. We skim the top of terms and conditions – if at all – before quickly agreeing. But with more simplified terms on the horizon, we need to ensure we read the full text – a notion that was recently highlighted by WiFi provider Purple.
It claims to be the first WiFi provider compliant with GDPR, and chose to celebrate by doing an experiment that highlighted the lack of consumer awareness around free WiFi access.
Hidden among its terms and conditions was an extra clause, which only one out of 22,000 customers spotted. They had all, bar one, unwittingly ended up agreeing to 1,000 hours of community service – and not the picking up trash with a stick kind.
Entitled the “Community Service Clause”, it said those signing up to use free WiFi would be required to “cleanse local parks of animal waste”, “provide hugs to stray cats and dogs” and “manually relieve sewer blockages”.
What’s more, users would end up “cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events”, “painting snail shells to brighten up their existence” and “scraping chewing gum off the streets”.
Of course, CEO Gavin Wheeldon explained no one would be called upon to perform these duties.
He added: “WiFi users need to read terms when they sign up to access a network. What are they agreeing to, how much data are they sharing, and what license are they giving to providers? Our experiment shows it’s all too easy to tick a box and consent to something unfair.”