Trusting WiFi Hotspots

In his CHI2008 paper called "Measuring trust in wi-fi hotspots", Tim Kindberg and colleagues investigate people's decisions to access unfamiliar Wi-Fi hotspots. To do so, they relied on a field experiment approach ('in the wild'). They wanted to test two hypotheses about the presence within the Wi-Fi hotspot’s introductory web pages of highly salient photographs that represented or did not represent the user’s current location:

"Specifically, it was first hypothesised that an image representing the location would increase the likelihood of the user trusting the website enough to supply personal information in the form of his or her mobile phone number, when compared to the same website displaying an image of a location that did not represent the user’s current location. By including an image of the location as a salient evidential cue – a locative cue – of the Wi-Fi service, we hypothesized that uncertainty about the source of the service would be reduced through ‘anchoring’ the service to the venue where it was deployed. "

They deployed a a spoof Wi-Fi hotspot developed for public use, exposing users attempting to connect to the hotspot to a degree of apparent risk. They provided a pretext for entering their mobile phone numbers in order to connect to the ‘service’ (See more about the methodology in the paper). The results are the following:

"The results tend to support the anti-locative hypothesis: that those exposed to an anti-locative cue are less likely to trust the service than those exposed to an a-locative cue. (...) The results of this experiment have implications for the design of situated services such as Wi-Fi. Designers need (a) to protect consumers from mistakenly trusting spoofed services, and (b) to avoid distrust as a barrier to use of legitimate services."

Why do I blog this? This is a sort of typical "urban computing" interaction. It's interesting to see that decisions to access an unfamiliar Wi-Fi hotspot can be affected by location-relevant images on the WiFi connection page.