How ‘Ethical’ Hotel Chain Marriott Gouges Guests in the Name of Wi-Fi Security
You’ve settled in, fired up your laptop—and not only is the $15-a-day hotel Internet slow as molasses, you can’t use your own hotspot for ‘security’ reasons. Why the policy is unlawful.
By Kyle Chayka
Dec 31 2014
The Marriott hotel chain swears it has to force guests to keep using its expensive, creaky Wi-Fi connections because the alternative, personal hotspots, would open the door to cybercrooks. Too bad the argument is, at best, half-true. Hotels’ Internet monopolies may be hurting our security rather than helping it.
A recent FCC investigation found Marriott’s blocking of personal Wi-Fi devices to be “unlawful”—kind of like the hotel charging you for towels and banning any you brought yourself.
The hotelier’s practice “unjustifiably prevents consumers from enjoying services they have paid for and stymies the convenience and innovation associated with Wi-Fi Internet access,” the FCC added.
Marriott was forced to pay $600,000 in penalties for its Wi-Fi blocking—a black mark for a firm that advertises itself as “a 2014 World’s Most Ethical Company.” So now the company is asking the FCC to, in effect, reverse itself.
“Rogue wireless hotspots [c]an cause degraded service, insidious cyberattacks, and identity theft,” Marriott told the FCC in a recent petition.
But regulators may have a tough time accepting Marriott’s logic, in part because the hotelier’s assertion “conflates two different downsides implicated by Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Justin Brookman, the director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Sure, there’s some chance of “diminished performance from Marriott’s own networks because of signal interference” from the hotspots, Brookman said. But that’s a different issue from “the potential for rogue hotspots set up by criminals to steal personal information from people who decide to log on to those networks.” And in either case, “the significant benefit from allowing Wi-Fi hotspots outweighs these concerns.”
In other words, Marriott is mixing up the quality of its product—the speed of hotel Internet—with its users’ basic security.
Which makes one wonder whether the hotel’s excuses are less about security than protecting the Internet monopoly on its premises. These days, charges for such service can range from $250 to $1,000 for conferences and rise to $20 daily for guests (one woman recently paid $366 for a day of high-speed Internet at a hotel in Cannes, according to The Telegraph), even for legendarily bad Wi-Fi.
Blocking hotspots is “just an economic move to control the connection so they can continue to command $15 per day for Wi-Fi and $10 per movie,” said Steven Sesar, the COO of FreedomPop, a wireless Internet provider. Sesar points out that hotels often block Netflix and other streaming platforms within the network so guests have no other option but to pay up.