Reader baald pointed me to a discussion at thegearpage, where a user asked whether utilizing someone else’s unsecured WiFi access point was tantamount to theft. Amazingly, this is a not-uncommon perception, and people have even been arrested for availing themselves of publicly accessible WiFi signals (which is insane).
My take: If I’m sitting in my car outside your house and can access your WiFi signal without a password, you are transmitting an open signal into my space. How is that not an invitation to use it? You’re literally bombarding me with with signal and simultaneously telling me I can’t use it?
I’ll go further: Anyone paying for a broadband connection is only using a tiny fraction of it and, IMO, practically has an obligation to share it, in the interest of making life better for everyone. We want to get to a point where wifi flows freely, like water out of public drinking fountains. When you pay for a signal and have tons of it to spare, you can / should help the world approach that nirvana.
That doesn’t mean you should be stupid about it. You should make sure your home network is secure and un-surfable. You should only share the TCP/IP, not LAN access. Big difference.
A) Ideally, everyone with a connection shares that connection — but does so smartly.
B) Yes, one should be able to safely assume that a non-protected hotspot is there as a public service.
While sharing a connection is against the Terms of Service of some ISPs, others think more like their users — British Telecom actually encourages their users to share the love.
Update: Security expert Bruce Schneir also leaves his home Wifi network unsecured, for all the same reasons.