Marriott Reverses Personal WiFi Blocking - InformationWeek

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1/15/2015
11:30 AM
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Marriott Reverses Personal WiFi Blocking

Marriott Hotels will no longer prevent guests from using their personal wireless access points, but it will continue exploring security solutions.

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Marriott Hotels was slow to realize it would never be able to prevent guests from accessing their personal WiFi hotspots. The company capitulated this week after it lost in the court of public opinion, but it left the door open for revisiting at later date.

In October, the FCC socked Marriott with a $600,000 fine for blocking personal WiFi access at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. The FCC fined Marriott because WiFi operates within unlicensed spectrum. Corporations, people, and other entities aren't allowed to block others from accessing or using their own competing equipment.

At the time, Marriott said it was concerned about hackers and malicious hotspots. Like many other hotels, Marriott charges guests daily fees for in-room Internet access. By blocking guests' WiFi hotspots, the company forced them to use Marriott's services rather than their own. Marriott also blocked WiFi access within its convention center space, where it charges companies considerably more for Internet access.

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Marriott was instantly hit with backlash from consumers and tech companies. Google and Microsoft, for example, weighed in on the matter. In December, Marriott backtracked a little bit, suggesting that it never intended to block personal hotspots in guest rooms. It wanted the FCC to allow it to block personal hotspots only in its convention spaces, for security reasons. (Some argued that it should be allowed to.) Marriott caught flak for that stance, too.

On Wednesday, Marriott issued a statement to Inc.: "Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal WiFi devices at any of our managed hotels." Road warriors can breathe a sigh of relief -- the MiFis, tablets, and smartphones mobile professionals use to generate Internet access are safe.

Marriott hasn't given up entirely, however: "Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of WiFi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels," the company said. "We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of WiFi devices."

In other words, Marriott still wants to be able to exert some control over Internet access on its properties. It simply needs to find the right legal channel to do so.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2015 | 10:08:48 AM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
It seems that you had a good time in Marriott.:-) The WiFi access in hotel is always a point of concern. Either it's  too slow or the charge is too high. The security threat never ceased. I do hope there will be better solution in the near future.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2015 | 5:36:49 PM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
@Curt- And Blackhat, too. Get them together for a very interesting but very frightening talk. :)
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
1/15/2015 | 4:40:55 PM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
This is indeed good news for hotel dwellers. But I am sad to report the network at the Yonkers Marriott is very very slow. I need a better Marriott, but during Hurricane Sandy, I was happy to have that lovely Residence Inn available to me.

I suspect, as you all indicate, we are at the beginning of "extra charges" for access.

The coffee is quite good, though.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2015 | 4:17:34 PM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
@Dave, I know this is the sort of thing that the team running the wireless network at Interop has to deal with on a regular basis. Now that I think about it, this might be a great topic for an upcoming episode of Interop Radio!
David Wagner
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50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2015 | 3:50:00 PM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
@Curt- It definitley happens. While covering a conference in Vegas, I attempted to login to Wifi at my hotel. I found multiple wifi names and didn't know which to select. One had the exact name of the hotel. A few others had initials that included that of the hotel. I decided to click on the strongest one which was the one with the hotel;s full name. 

I was taken just like any other wifi to a splash page. The splash page had a picture of the hotel and a logo and looked official. Except I noticed it had a couple of typos. And the language wasn't what i was used to seeing. And it asked for my credit card and did not give me a bill to room option. I got suspicious. 

I went to the little book they leave in every room and discovered that I had not clicked on the right one. Clearly someone was spoofing from a nearby room or area. I'm sure there are even more sophisticated plans that that. But if those folks had hired an editor like me, they'd have my credit card info now. 
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2015 | 3:40:15 PM
Re: Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
@Dave, you're quite right: If giving the hotel money for WiFi meant that you got really great WiFi, then it would be different. To fork over $12 a day for performance that brings on flashbacks to bad dialup is just insulting.

I've spoken with network security folks who say that the security angle is not completely specious. I can agree with their logic but maintain that there simply must be better ways to deal with man in the middle attacks (their main concern).  As politicians are fond of saying, "the optics are bad" for Marriott on this one and they should be able to find smart people who can come up with decent solutions that don't smack of extortion.
David Wagner
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50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/15/2015 | 1:59:05 PM
Next Up: Letting You Bring Your Own Coffee
Oh good, pop the champagne. One thing that saddens me is that the airline and hotel industries are trying to one up each other on the add-on front. Hotels have always had minibars and that bottle of water calling to you on the TV. Heck, I remember when I was a kid, stay in hotels that had coin op TV. Wifi was the new checked baggage of the industry. It was used like a bargaining chip to give away free to VIPs or for cheaper hotels to entice you with. 

You know what I'd like? I'd like to know what I'm really paying. I'd like to not fuss with 20 minutes of logging in and giving my credit card info just to use really slow wifi. 

Security issue or not, the real issue is still how offputting the whole wifi issue really is.
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