Privacy advocacy groups are sounding the alarm on LinkNYC, a network of free Wi-Fi kiosks that have been installed across New York City in the past year by CitiBridge, which is a consortium of companies such as Qualcomm, CIVIQ Smartscapes, and Intersection (part of Sidewalk Labs, part of Alphabet).

The kiosks, called Links, enable users to connect to a private Wi-Fi network, allow free domestic calling, provide free device charging via USB ports, an integrated tablet for surfing the Web, and an emergency button for calling 911.

Based on reports from Cryptome and MassPrivateI, there are over 10,000 of such kiosks already installed in New York.

Wi-Fi kiosks collect a lot of data on those who use them

The two groups also claim that these kiosks secretly spy on users. Their arguments are the lack of transparency from NYC’s municipality, which has failed to provide in-depth details about how these kiosks work.

Even if it is normal and makes sense for these kiosks to feature surveillance cameras, MassPrivateI points out that the rigs hide these cameras in an attempt to fool users into thinking that they are not being watched.

Furthermore, the group also stresses that these kiosks also collect information such as MAC address, IP address, browser type and version, time zone setting, browser plug-in types and versions, operating system and platform, device type, and device identifiers.

Additionally, the kiosks also collect the user’s search history, pages they viewed or searched for, page response times, download errors, length of visits to certain pages, page interaction information (such as scrolling, clicks, and mouse-overs), and methods used to browse away from the page.

“CityBridge claims they won’t keep a person’s personally identifiable information longer than 12 months after their last login. Which means, every time the same person uses CityBridge they reset their privacy countdown,” MassPrivateI writes in its report.

Kiosks could be used to track New Yorkers around the city

Furthermore, MassPrivateI claims that these kiosks form a mesh of spying devices across New York City, allowing its owner to track users bearing Wi-Fi enabled devices as they move around the city.

The group claims that the kiosks could track a person based on the MAC address of their device, as it passes through the coverage of their kiosks, and through the two cameras embedded in the rigs.

Until now, CitiBridge has denied it shared any data with local law enforcement, but the company has said that it will share user details with advertising companies.

Over 5 million people have used the LinkNYC kiosks until now, and the network is set to expand across the US to other cities.

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