• A study conducted by Suzan Ali, a master's student at Concordia University, shines a light on the risks of using public WiFi in Montreal.
  • Many hotspots around the city have been shown to collect sensitive data, like postal code or current employer, of its users and send it out to third-parties.
  • Read the other main findings of this study below!
  • Visit MTLBlog for more headlines.

In our modern technological world, we so rarely think of the consequences of what we do on our electronic devices. With the hope of "staying connected," we often connect to the free public WiFi offered in whatever establishment we find ourselves in, without thinking too much about it. We just love the convenience, right? Well, it turns out that most free WiFi in Montreal isn't as "free" as we may assume - but I'm not talking in terms of money.

A study conducted by a Concordia master's student, Suzan Ali, has found results about Montreal WiFi hotspots that will have us rethinking how easily we connect to them.

The study found that 96% of hotspots use different forms of tracking methods to follow what people look up while using WiFi. And if that wasn't enough, almost half of those hotspots automatically install cookies into the device a person is using, sometimes before the person has even pressed "accept the terms of service." These cookies can stay active for almost 20 years, which means personal information can be taken from the person's phone even after they have left the WiFi zone. This data often then gets shared with third parties.

So, next time you're about to connect to any form of free WiFi around the city, or anywhere in the world, be aware that you're giving out access to a lot of your personal information.

The study "On Privacy Risks of Public WiFi Captive Portalsconducted", which was conducted by Ali and her two supervisors, Mohammad Mannan and Amr Youssef, looked at 67 free hotspots around Montreal in hopes to make clear to people what exactly happens when you connect to a public WiFi.

You can read the full study here.

The hotspots that were studied across Montreal "include[d] cafes and restaurants, shopping malls, retail businesses, banks, and transportation companies (bus, train and airport)."

A reminder no matter how safe you assume an establishment is, it doesn't mean its WiFi can be trusted.

The actual information that WiFi hotspots can get from a user's phone vary. This study found specific spots in and around Montreal that collect immense amounts of information about its users.

This graph shows you exactly what personal data of yours can be found when you connect to a hotspot, ranging from your postal code to your current employer.

Looking at this chart, you can see that places Montrealers love to frequent, such as Carrefour Angrignon, Michael Kors, Centre Rockland, and YUL Airport have WiFi hotspots that collect the highest amount of personal data.

And yes, you can bet that data is being sent around to third- parties that will use your information to send you personalized ads, among other things.

Take Hvmans Cafe as an example, which while you're connected to its WiFi, the hotspot can send information collected about you to 34 different third-parties.

Which leaves me to wonder, is privacy even a thing anymore?

"If you value privacy and security, you need to stay as anonymous as possible," says Ali. The best way to do so is not to use your social media when signing into any public hotspot.

So Montrealers, be cautious when you seek out free WiFi and provide as little information as you can when connecting - since you don't know where your sensitive data may be going.

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