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Beijing to get free Wi-Fi with obvious strings attached

Mobile number needed to access 480,000 hotspots

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Over the next five years Beijing will get 480,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots, but using them will require a mobile number and an agreement to have your activities tracked and monitored.

The network is being put together by China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, and will be free to use for least the next three years. However, access will require one to hand over your mobe's number, which can be used to "trace those whose online activity might endanger social security", China.org was told.

The Beijing network could well be the largest municipal Wi-Fi network in the world, with 90,000 hotpots to be live by the end of 2011 and another 390,000 being connected over the next five years. But by the time it's finished time users might be expected to pay for access as well as being tracked at every turn, as free access is only being offered until the tail end of 2014.

Not that locals seems worried about government snooping: internet usage is already notoriously restricted in China. The real concern is that creating a link between a mobile phone number and a web browsing history (plus a physical location) will open the door to even more mobile spam.

The Chinese are bombarded with advertising pushed to their handsets, and some argue that a few more ads won't make a significant difference. The state's officials are saying the data won’t be sold off to private companies, but Beijing residents don't seem to be as trusting as the wonks might hope. ®

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