Starbucks and McDonald's will soon join hundreds of other businesses in the proliferation of free internet access to customers. But along with free access comes growing legal uncertainty regarding user-privacy.
Concern with user-privacy on unsecure Wi-Fi networks was initiated by Google's admission that its Street View cars intercepted data from unsecure Wi-Fi networks around the world. In response to subsequent lawsuits, Google claimed that it is lawful to use readily-available, packet-sniffing tools to spy on and download payload data from others using the sharing the same network.
French officials have determined data intercepted by Google included passwords and content of electronic messages. But so far, US officials are not sure that Google committed any legal wrongdoing. However, there is now a push to make such activity illegal, in order to encourage free Wi-Fi and protect users' privacy.