Starting alter this month, Beijing will start rolling out a free public Wi-Fi network dubbed “My Beijing.” The service is being supported by three of China’s biggest telecom companies; China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. In the next few years, the government hopes to have roughly 60% of the massive city covered with Wi-Fi. As with all free things, there is a catch. Users will have to hand over their wireless numbers to connect to the network.
There are two main concerns with the My Beijing network. It is possible the Chinese government simply wants to get citizens used to its tightly controlled and filtered network, then shut down independent sources of connectivity. This has already been occurring in smaller cities. it’s no secret that the Chinese government often blocks information it does not agree with, and this would only strengthen its grip and allow it to more easily track users via the required phone numbers.
The other concern is that Chinese authorities could simply fail to properly protect the phone numbers they collect. Surely this would be a treasure trove of data for spammers or less than reputable advertisers, and it will more than likely come under attack at some point. Still, many Chinese citizens cannot afford personal internet access, so the free Wi-Fi may be better than nothing. It will reportedly remain free for a period of at least three years, after which point a fee could be assessed.