Be careful with free Wi-Fi at your business

August 23, 2011

— Stephanie Rabiner is a contributor to FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters publication. This article originally appeared here. —

For a small business, free Wi-Fi can be a great way to lure in customers, encouraging them to spend time at your establishment.

However, offering internet access comes with a bit of a risk, opening your business up to security breaches and providing others with a place to engage in illegal activity, such as downloading copyrighted material and viewing child pornography.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to protect your business.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll be held legally responsible for your customers’ copyright infringement, it may still cause problems with your internet service provider.

AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon have struck a deal with the MPAA and RIAA that requires the providers to give warnings to residential customers believed to be stealing content. Five violations can end in termination of service.

While the National Federation of Independent Business states that this does not apply to commercial business accounts, if your small business’ Wi-Fi is part of a residential account, it is time to switch over.

Another way to prevent copyright infringement and security breaches is use an encryption service and place a password on your Wi-Fi, only sharing it with paying customers.

You may also want to consider blocking certain kinds of websites, such as those that host torrents, or those that feature pornography. It will take some work to create a filter that doesn’t block appropriate sites, but in the end it may be worth the effort.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t offer free Internet — only that, if you do, be sure to protect yourself by protecting your small business’ Wi-Fi.

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One comment

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I would also like to add that offering free WiFi may go against PCI compliance (credit card security regulations) if you are recording credit card numbers onto an online system or transmitting credit card purchases through the internet. There are ways around this, though internet security and firewalls, but we chose not to offer free WiFi until we did away with our no-show fees and so no longer needed to record credit card numbers in our system.

For any service type business where there may be a wait, such as a doctor’s office, free WiFi definitely reduces the perception of wait time, because customers/patients can at least get some work done while they’re waiting.

Posted by DrMoolji | Report as abusive