Privacy concerns cancel planned Wi-Fi kiosks in Seattle

The plan to install kiosks with free Wi-Fi and create bus stops with Wi-Fi in Seattle was stopped by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. The mayor's spokesperson told KIRO 7 she has concerns about privacy. The mayor's decision to no longer pursue the Wi-Fi kiosks was first reported by The Urbanist.

A spokesperson for the mayor told KIRO 7 on Wednesday, "The City of Seattle has always been the city of the future and is actively seeking ways to innovate and become a truly 'Smart City'. Currently, the city is not actively negotiating on the proposed electronic kiosks. Because of her background working on privacy issues from decades, Mayor Durkan strong believes that any proposals using city right-of-way must adequately protect users' privacy and data and uphold net neutrality principles while ensuring that any such program advances equity for communities throughout Seattle," said Stephanie Formas, Mayor Durkan's Spokesperson.

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The transit advertising company Intersection proposed a plan to the city in 2016 that would pay the City of Seattle $97-$167 million dollars for exclusive access for Link Wi-Fi kiosks in Seattle for the next 20 years, according to the company. Intersection's proposal said the city could make another $100 million in ad revenue during that same period.

"In 2016 the Seattle Department of Transportation issued an Intent to Award to Intersection for our proposal that would bring new bus shelters and digital kiosks to the city, providing hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors with secure and super-fast Wi-Fi, access to free phone calls, maps, transit updates, and local information. All of these free services would come at no cost to taxpayers and would generate significant new revenue for the city to invest in transit and other public priorities," said Jen Hensley, president of Link, Intersection.

The kiosks are already installed in New York City and London. Intersection also say they only ask for an email address to log on, not your name or other identifying information.

Link says the kiosks do not collect any phone or wireless data. They do have video cameras on the devices to help maintain and protect against vandalism. Link says the cameras are similar to what is used in an ATM. Intersection owns the footage, not the city, and for it to be obtained by law enforcement it would require a subpoena or court order. The video is destroyed after seven days, according to the company.  "Link also comes with our strong commitment to user privacy and security. We look forward to continuing our conversations with city stakeholders about bringing these public benefits to the streets of Seattle, " said Jen Hensley, President of Link, Intersection.

The ACLU applauded Mayor Durkan's decision to scrap the plan.

"When a deal seems too good to be true and there isn't any appreciable product, the privacy of individuals, and individuals themselves are the product," said Shankar Narayan, ACLU-WA Director, Technology and Liberty Project.  He also expressed concern about the cameras. "In Seattle we haven't made decisions to put cameras on every corner, it's certainly been raised, but no, we don't want that because that infringes on peoples' rights to go about in public without being surveilled by their government."