Business Week Befuddled by Wireless (but making amends)

by Rob Flickenger

Related link:

Addendum 4/25/02

After a few more email exchanges with Heather Green, it has become apparent that the original reference was an unintentional error on BW's part. It's difficult to tell from their online edition, but the print edition is actually three separate pieces about how people are using Wi-Fi. In the print edition, it is obvious that Heather Green was one contributor (of four) on the piece that accused FreeNetworks of posting vulnerable private wlan information. And in the greater context of all of the pieces, it does seem (to me, anyway) that they are getting closer to reporting on what community networks are all about.

At any rate, they have promised to print a correction (although their online edition has yet to be updated...) While the initial mistake was unfortunate (and shouldn't have happened in the first place, considering how long Schuyler, Matt, and others were interviewed) it appears that they do intend to correct it.

Addendum 4/23/02

I received this response from Heather Green. They are evidently going to print a retraction. The damage is already done, but it's good to see at least an attempt at repairs...

From: Heather Green
Date: Tue Apr 23, 2002 10:46:16 AM US/Pacific
To: Rob Flickenger
Subject: Re: "All Net, All the Time"

Thanks for your email. I appreciate you pointing this out. We absolutely
will run a correction. It was an unfortunate mistake.

Rob Flickenger wrote:

I'm sure you've received plenty of complaints before this, so I'll keep
it brief.

Your article posted at:

...clearly accuses ( of
encouraging people to engage in computer trespassing, by publishing the
location of unprotected wireless access points. is a central aggregation point for organizers of
community networks, and has never encouraged anyone to engage in illegal
activities. There are no network maps posted to the site, nor have
there ever been (unless you count the stylized "from space" view of free
and LEGAL open networks on the front page.) Your remarks are incorrect,
inappropriate, and alarmist.

As these facts are easily verified online (and, indeed, in a number of
people I know that you interviewed while researching this piece) I
expect that it is simply an editorial oversight, and will be repaired
post haste.

I expect an apology and printed retraction in your next issue.

--Rob Flickenger
Author, "Building Wireless Community Networks", O'Reilly & Associates

Original Blog

An otherwise uninspired article grabbed my attention with the following little gem:

"Some Wi-Fi aficionados hunt down unprotected networks that anyone can use to surf the Web surreptitiously. In tech havens like New York and Silicon Valley, these laptop-toting enthusiasts put $50 antennas into their computers and ride around town sniffing out corporate networks. They then post maps with the locations at Web sites like"

Beyond alarmist, this statement is simply wrong. The editors have obviously failed to recognize that not only are (an excellent information aggregation point for Wireless Community Network organizers) and (the home page of an excellent network analysis tool for 802.11b) completely different sites, they are in no way affiliated.

FreeNetworks has never promoted network discovery and trespassing, and suggesting that it does can only serve to further sensationalize a story that doesn't exist.

YES, it is possible to setup insecure networks. YES, some people will always exploit systems for their own profit. But Community Networks aren't about theft, they're about solidarity and the fundamental desire for people to communicate with each other. Equating the efforts of FreeNetworks to the tabloid exploits of common network crackers may sell more magazines, but it's still an insult. And it's a lie.

Do you think that the recent Business Week article is misleading?


2002-04-23 11:13:10
The truth behind the lies.

"Think Napster. Think hackers." Think mindless sensationalism: This Business Week article is an affront to journalism, to efforts of community networking, and, above all, to the truth.

I don't mind so much that I spent over an hour and a half on the phone with Business Week's Heather Green, going over the issues of wireless community networking in great depth, to make sure she got her facts right, only to be stabbed in the back. I hope Matt Westervelt and Peter Rowell don't mind either, because they spent at least as long on the phone with her, and I was the one who gave Ms. Green their contact information. (Actually, in Peter Rowell's case, I went out of my way to contact an employer of his to pass the message along, because I didn't actually have his phone number, but I thought it was important that she talk to him.) Ms. Green called me multiple times, increasingly desperate for a story she could publish. I did my best to help her find one, and this is the thanks I get. But I don't mind that so much -- I should have known better. The name "Business Week" alone should have warned me that these people were uninterested in outmoded ideas like "community" and "freedom".

For that matter, I don't even particularly mind being plagarized by Business Week, maybe because they didn't even take the trouble to plagarize me correctly. I gave Ms. Green the metaphor of community networking being like old-fashioned barn raising, except that they somehow managed to leave out the important part -- that it's like a barn-raising because, when you help your neighbor set his thing up, you do so with every reasonable expectation of having his help when it's your turn, which is part of what makes it community networking. I also gave Ms. Green the notion that each of the major community networks has a specialty, only they didn't manage to get that right either: In their description of NYCWireless as "The Altruists", Business Week totally failed to mention NYCWireless' assistance to the rescue effort after the WTC disaster, which is one of the shining successes to date of community wireless networking, something we are all proud of.

I don't even mind the fact that the complimentary copy of Business Week that I was promised never actually showed up. If I were the staff of Business Week, I'd be embarrassed to have me read their article. And if this article is representative of their quality of reporting, then I can't imagine what use I would have for the rest of their magazine.

No, what I really mind, what really bothers me, what really makes me upset, is the way in which this article takes a group of people who are trying to build a better world for everyone and dismisses them as mere anarchists, or, worse, depicts them as criminals. They describe us as trying to "wrest control" from the telephone companies, and accuse us of encouraging illegal and unethical activities, such as cracking private wireless networks, none of which is remotely true. Not only is this self-serving sensationalism of the worst kind, it is pure libel, plain and simple.

2002-04-23 15:17:41
how to make it right
>I expect an apology and printed retraction
>in your next issue.

How about an immediate fix on the online story along with an editorial apology for the libel and gross negligence of editorial staff and fact checkers?

I've already written them letting them know that their portrayal of community wireless network enthusiasts as anarchist hackers (instead of the IT pros that they are) has already cost them credibility with the very audience their advertisers covet.

If I can find a copy of their rag (w/o paying for it of course) I may even submit a few letters to their advertisers. If 200 people sent letters to 1-2 BusWeek advertisers we might even be able to hurt their bottom line... which is obviously much more important than their credibility.