New York City is asking vendors to take over the city's almost-universally abandoned pay phones (a transparent, glass-enclosed structure on street corners was probably never a good choice for Superman's changing room anyway) and use them to deliver free Wi-Fi to residents. What's not to love?
The problem is that among the 60 vendors that attended a meeting with the hope of offering such a service were data brokers, including a funky company called Google.
[ Also on InfoWorld: How to protect personal, corporate information when you travel. | It's time to rethink security. Two former CIOs show you how to rethink your security strategy for today's world. Bonus: Available in PDF and e-book versions. | Stay up to date on the latest security developments with InfoWorld's Security Central newsletter. ]
In terms of who may do this deal, things are quite preliminary. No one has yet bid, and the city is likely to take some time reviewing and negotiating before a winner is selected. But it's not too soon to note some problems, such as the criteria the city has set and the stunningly little regard shown for information security and privacy. In a 69-page request for proposals (RFP), plus 15 lengthy addenda, there is not one mention of privacy or security limitations.
Now, a network of some 7,302 pay phones turned into Wi-Fi stations, connecting into free data communication for all, is an inherently good thing. Such an effort would be extremely attractive, convenient -- and deadly to confidential communications and intellectual property. And the more it's seen as free and convenient, the more your employees will be tempted to use it and the more vulnerable your data becomes.
Let's look at what the city is proposing, based on its RFP. "The installation, operation, and maintenance of as many as 10,000 Public Communications Structures providing advertising, Wi-Fi, and phone services in all five boroughs," it says. It goes on, "The Wi-Fi service must be provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and must provide a signal strong enough to reach a minimum of 85 feet across a busy street. The Wi-Fi hotspots should work together as a network. A user should be able to log in once and stay connected while within 85 feet of any hotspot. The user's device should be allowed to automatically re-connect after a connection has been severed and the user comes within the range of one of the network's hotspots."
This is not limited to pay phone Wi-Fi stations. The city has spoken of integrating these systems with existing Wi-Fi systems that are associated with taxis, subways and New York's Citi Bike program (https://www.citibikenyc.com/).
So far, so good. The proposal stresses that the service must be free to everyone, and it provides restrictions on what services can be sold via that network and that no one can be required to be a customer of any vendor to use the network.