Tensions between social responsibility, economic interests and legal requirements

A stronger spreading of public WLANs is demanded as emphatically as rejected in Germany. The interdisciplinary team of experts at the Forum Privatheit examined the conflicting interests of players from politics, business and society as well as the current legal situation and derived recommendations for action for WLAN users and operators.

Who has Smartphones, Tablets and other mobile terminals, wants to be able to use also in the public area an inexpensive, broadband Internet connection. However, since capacity and speed restrictions in most mobile phone tariffs restrict mobile Internet use, more and more commercial and municipal players are offering public WLANs. These promise a convenient and free Internet connection. In an international comparison, however, Germany is still at the bottom of the rankings with regard to the penetration of public WLANs. The main reason for this was the so-called "Stoererhaftung", which held private and commercial operators responsible for violations of user rights. The amendment to the Telemedia Act of 2 June 2016 was intended to remove this obstacle, but due to unclear provisions in the Act and a ruling by the European Court of Justice in September 2016, there is still uncertainty about the liability and obligations of WLAN operators. The Forum Privatheit suggests creating legal certainty here.

In particular, the Forum points out that in the debate to date the focus has been on the risks to WLAN operators, but that the risks to users are hardly discussed.

In its current white paper "Privacy in Public WLANs", Forum Privatheit concludes that most public WLANs offer a variety of spying and access options to personal or related data. Tracking and profiling can have positive consequences for many users. For example, special offers can be made on the basis of location data and movement profiles. At the same time, this type of customer tracking based on WLAN signals also entails risks for informational self-determination. An important measure against tracking is the deactivation of automatic logon to known networks.

Public WLANs also pose an increased risk of attacks by hackers. If there is no encryption, they can easily intercept the data traffic of WLAN users and, for example, spy out passwords. The Forum Privatheit therefore recommends several preventive protective measures to users in the white paper. For example, confidential data should not be communicated over untrusted networks. This data requires a secure connection. If a virtual private network (VPN) of a trusted provider is used, the users have such a connection.
Operators should configure their WLANs in such a way that they cannot be used as a tool for spying and monitoring. This also reduces the risk of violating privacy laws.

For information:

The TMG is to be amended in view of the ECJ ruling. The article shows the essential contents of the draft of a third law for the change of the Telemediengesetz and examines the question whether a legally secure operation is now made possible.

Dr. Olga Grigorjew, /Tamer Bile: Amendment of the TMG: Successful improvement for a legally secure open WLAN operation, ZD-aktuell 2017, Issue 9, 05621.
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