Google has begun sponsoring free Wi-Fi for Android users through Boingo Wireless, a provider of wireless connectivity around the world.
The deal takes advantage of Boingo's August acquisition of Cloud Nine Media, a marketing firm that sells online ads to sponsor free wireless access.
Thanks to Google's sponsorship, users of Android devices and Chrome OS, Linux, OS X, or Windows laptops will be able to access the Internet for free over Wi-Fi at over 4,000 locations. Those who do so will see a Google Play landing page in their browser when they log on, asking whether they would like to explore Google Play content.
Users of iOS devices such as iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch are not included by the sponsorship deal because they cannot use Google Play.
[ Mozilla is developing a browser-based OS for mobile devices. Read about it here: Mozilla's Firefox OS Seeks Innovation Without Gatekeeping. ]
"Google Play is an Android content platform, and this Wi-Fi sponsorship is focused on reaching Android tablet and phone users as well as laptop users who might also own an Android device," a spokeswoman for Boingo Wireless explained in an email.
This may mean that iOS device users will have to pay for access to Boingo's network while Android users surf for free, but not necessarily. Boingo hotspots may have multiple sponsors at a given location, so iOS device users may enjoy free network access on another sponsor's dime.
Unfortunately, Boingo also faces a security loophole related to iOS users changing their browser user agent data. According to Boingo's spokeswoman, devices are identified by their browsers. Assuming that Boingo doesn't take additional security measures, such as checking MAC addresses--which can identify the equipment vendor--then iOS apps that offer user agent string customization--the Atomic Web browser, for example--could allow iOS devices to masquerade as Android devices. [ Editor's note: After this story's publication, a Boingo spokesman responded to our language in reporting this issue. We have updated this paragraph to reflect that we are reporting on a security issue, not advocating user behavior. The spokesman said that while the user agent string can be manipulated by users, "we've seen user-agent switching fraud in sub-1% of sessions." The spokesman went on to say that, as with many loopholes, there are always unethical users. ]
Boingo Wireless' 4,000+ hotspots include 15 airports--including New York's John F. Kennedy, Chicago O'Hare, and Seattle-Tacoma--as well as subway stations in Manhattan, and hotels, malls, cafes, and recreational areas.
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