Church Street Marketplace “free” WIFI, fo,fum

“Free” WIFI was installed at the Church Street Market place in the summer of 2015. The $50,000.00 system, with support from Burlington Telecom, was paid for by private donors, and the largest chunk chipped in by L.L. Bean.

Now, six months later, WCAX News reports the WIFI network shows 20,000 people visited the Burlington shopping destination on its busiest Saturday.

“We started collecting data in June, so once we start to have a full year of data, we’ll be able to say we we’re up or down in terms of pedestrian traffic. That’s going to help us measure how we’re doing,” said Ron Redmond with Church Street Marketplace.”Sometimes they’ll be thinking it was a bad day, and we can show them, well actually there were 12,000 people on the street that day. It provides them with a little sense of security.”

free wifiNot to go all paranoid but privacy concerns are an ongoing worry with “free” WIFI areas. Data storage and collection from WIFI devices is a relatively new area, not subject to uniform privacy protections as cell phone data is supposed to be. In 2014 a California coffee shop ran into privacy complaints when it was discovered that it used tracking analytics that could locate a device as being unique from others in the area. In that way specific conclusions could be drawn from the data:  how long an individual device user stayed in an area, in a store, or even where an individual stood. Because of public pressure the coffee shop stopped using the software. Do you get Free WIFI in Burlington and a bell on your collar too?

The goal at Church Street Market Place is to monitor foot traffic and individual store sales. With this data, individual retailers can better analyze the effectiveness of their current and future sales promotions and advertising.

It is too bad it never occurred to WCAX, Vermont’s [self-proclaimed] “best news source” to probe a little deeper and ask about what else might be gained by those businesses that put up $50,000.00 for “free” public WIFI. It is a surprise just plain curiosity wasn’t enough for WCAX News to ask who owns and stores the data collected: the city-owned Burlington Telecom or a private entity. And could whoever does control the data be able to profit from it by sharing (for a price)  the stored shopping and traffic marketing information?

The common claim is that most Americans are willing to give up some privacy for discounts and sales. But in a report called the Trade off Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation the Annenberg School of Communications found it may actually be a simple matter of resignation.

Americans, the report contends, aren’t happy that they have to give their name, phone number, email address, and other data to get discounts. They do it because they believe marketers will get the data anyway. “Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them,” co-author Joe Turow says.

And should we be equally resigned to WCAX News missing some obvious follow-up questions that would have made a fluffy item into a local news story?

4 thoughts on “Church Street Marketplace “free” WIFI, fo,fum

  1. Questions:

    1. Does the Church Street wireless connection require users to “agree” to terms on a splash page (i.e., an intro page requiring consent and setting forth terms of use)? — it is my understanding that it does, but I have not used the service –; and

    2. Does the splash page suggest that users have any privacy rights, or (& more likely);

    3. Does the Church Street Marketplace give notice of how individual’s data will be used? For instance, the following is creepily typical:
    [Note the following boilerplate language contains terms to which we all frequently “agree” in order to use a web site. If you become nauseous while reviewing these terms of use, stop and continue to question 4]

    to provide better services to all of our users like which ads you’ll find most useful, the people who matter most to you online, or which websites you might like.

    We collect information such as for personal information, like your name, email address, telephone number or credit card to store with your account.

    We collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you watch a video on YouTube, visit a website that uses our advertising services, or view and interact with ads and content. This information includes:
    Device information – We collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). We may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your other personal information.
    Log information – we automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This includes: details of how you used our service, such as your search queries. Telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.
    Internet protocol address — device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL, and cookies that may uniquely identify you or your browser
    Location information – we may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.

    Unique application numbers – services include a unique application number. This number and information about your installation (for example, the operating system type and application version number) may be stored or used.

    Local storage – We may collect and store information (including personal information) locally on your device using mechanisms such as browser web storage (including HTML 5) and application data caches.

    Cookies and similar technologies – We or other corporations or persons use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit this service. This may include using cookies or similar technologies to identify your browser or device. We also use these technologies to collect and store information when you interact with services we offer to other corporations such as advertising services. Our data collection and analytics may be used to help businesses and site owners analyze traffic to their websites and apps and this may include using the DoubleClick cookie

    Information we collect when you are signed in to this service, in addition to information we obtain about you from our corporations may be used to build a profile about you which we may use for multiple commercial purposes.

    How we use information we collect

    We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, and to develop new services. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads. We use information collected from cookies and other technologies, like pixel tags

    Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection.

    We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other services.

    4. If anyone reading this has an opportunity to make a screen grab of the Burlington Marketplace splash/entry page, please forward it to us ( or

    ps. If you want to know who is doing what at the Burlington Marketplace, here is a good place to start:

  2. Another gruesome thought.

    If the Church Street Marketplace does give personally identifiable information to third parties and/or if the login requirements force users to waive their privacy rights, then ALL TYPES INFORMATION, which I listed above, are subject to full freedom of information disclosure. Anyone can have, for the de minimus cost of reproduction, a data-dump of that juicy info.

    None of the usual statutory exemptions of disclosure would apply to this information given the likely terms of use and/or the a practice of making the info available to third parties enterprises.



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