Would you be willing to let strangers access your WiFi signal? Well, if you happen to be a customer of Comcast’s Xfinity Internet service, that’s about to happen unless you specifically authorize it not to do so.
Comcast is making an effort to create thousands of new WiFi hotspots in the Western Washington and Spokane areas, activating a second WiFi signal from people’s Xfinity wireless routers, which means that other Comcast customers can connect using your modem. The move is part of a broader expansion plan aimed at creating millions of Xfinity WiFi hotspots around the country.
In case you’re worried, Comcast says that customers have no need to be concerned. In an email sent to customers, it explains that the new service uses a separate channel and so it won’t affect your own bandwidth, performance or security. In fact, Comcast says doing it this way is more secure because it means other users cannot access your personal network.
Naturally the move has attracted a few critics. Geekwire’s Todd Bishop, who first reported on Comcast’s experiment, says it could be quite unnerving for some users:
“For somebody who just suddenly realizes that someone from the public walking by their house is accessing the Internet through their router, it’s creepy. Even with all the caveats that Comcast is giving.”
Some Comcast customers have also criticized the move on Twitter:
@XFINITY whoevers brillant idea it was to enable the xfinitywifi hotspot on home users routers needs to be fired…
— Steve Larowe (@slarowe86) June 11, 2014
A second criticism is that the service is opt-out, which means it will be automatically switched on. This means those who don’t want to share their WiFi have to go to their settings and deactivate the option. Not that Comcast could have really done things any differently, if it had to rely on customers to activate the router themselves, it would create a lot less than the 219,000 Xfinity WiFi hotspots its hoping to switch on.
To assuage these concerns, Comcast has posted an FAQ about the new feature, and has also posted a video (below) onto YouTube that goes into more detail.