Dec 8, 2014 · 2 minutes

Comcast really wants its customers to share their WiFi networks with each other. DSLReports claims that firmware updates to the company's home routers have re-created public networks even after consumers shut them off, making it harder to opt out of the public WiFi program.

Besides demonstrating Comcast's ability to do essentially whatever it wants to its customers, the news also highlights the company's disregard for consumer security, especially since critics of the program have revealed numerous security problems caused or worsened by the public networks.

The first problem is outside Comcast's control. Android smartphones will inadvertently share their owners’ location history by broadcasting every WiFi network they’ve accessed with the device in an effort to conserve battery life. For that, we can blame device manufacturers, as I explained in July:

[These problems are the] accidental byproducts of features meant to help people connect to WiFi networks they know and trust (in Google’s case) or access WiFi networks while traveling (in AT&T’s and Comcast’s) and remove some of the hassle of connecting to WiFi networks the old-fashioned way. But that doesn’t change the fact that consumers are trading their security for the sake of convenience — and that unlike their decision not to use a passcode on their smartphone or to use the same password for every site they visit, they’re doing so without knowing that they’re putting themselves at risk.
This becomes more of a problem as more networks share the same name, and that's exactly what is happening under Comcast's program, which uses a customer's home Internet connection to provide a public WiFi network to other Comcast customers who require access to the Internet. (The idea is that these networks will be used when someone is traveling or just wandering about.)

The second problem with Comcast's public networks is entirely under the company's control. It has started injecting advertisements into the websites visited through its public WiFi networks, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's senior staff technologist told Ars Technica that this practice could "potentially create new security vulnerabilities in sites that didn’t have them."

All of which means that Comcast is knowingly putting consumers at risk because it wants to monetize its public WiFi networks. At the same time, it's "asking" its customers to assist in the creation of more public networks, and based on the news that firmware updates can override a consumer's wishes, it really won't take "no" for an answer.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]