Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Comcast Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Use of Customer Routers For Comcast Xfinity Wifi Service

Much to the disdain of many customers earlier this year Comcast began its roll out of the company's new Comcast Xfinity Wifi service. The service features an update to rented home Wi-Fi routers that turns on a little known feature enabling your Xfinity router to be turned into a public hotspot!

Unfortunately for many un-suspecting customers the newly update service was turned on by default, and while Comcast promises there is no risk to users, and no added costs associated. The new service has not been met with open arms.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle report a class-action lawsuit was filed against Comcast last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit was submitted by East Bay residents Toyer Grear and daughter Joycelyn Harris, who claim that Comcast is using its equipment to exploit customers for profit. They're seeking an injunction that will prevent Comcast from using its residential wireless routers as public hotspots. The suit also seeks compensation for unspecified damages.

According to the complaint Comcast violated the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as California laws on unfair competition and computer data access and fraud. They claim that the public hotspots, broadcast from the same equipment used for subscribers' private Wi-Fi networks, raise customers' electricity costs and harm network performance. But they also make what Comcast says is a false allegation regarding network security.

Comcast is looking to build a public Xfinity WiFi hotspot network, one that offers any current Comcast customer access to WiFi hotspotx throughout the region. This network will reside in 19 of the largest cities here in the United States and compete with America's top mobile service providers such as AT&T and Verizon. To do this, Comcast has added a second Internet channel to the newer models of its wireless gateway modems that are leased out to subscribers.

The lawsuit claims that “unauthorized broadcasting of a secondary, public Wi-Fi network from the customer’s wireless router subjects the customer to potential security risks, in the form of enabling a stranger who wishes to access the Internet through the customer’s household router, with the customer having no option to authorize or otherwise control such use.” The suit goes on to say that “upon information and belief, any activity on the Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot will appear as though it originated from the Comcast customer’s IP address.”

A Comcast FAQ says the public hotspots are "completely separate from your secure Wi-Fi home network" and contend that there is no risk of cross access or communication. Furthermore Comcast ensures users that because the public Wi-Fi signal these features provide is treated as a separate connection, you won’t get into trouble for anything anyone does with it. It should be a separate IP address and usage will be associated with the account the other person signs on with.

Security risks aside the lawsuit also claims that end users with these 'hotspot enabled' routers are subject to higher electricity bills and slower overall connections speeds. Another claim that Comcast has previously defended in regards to the hotspots, saying they use minimal extra power, do not pose security risks because they are walled off from each customer’s private network, and do not cause any noticeable performance drop.

Although the hotspots are turned on by default, customers can turn them off by calling 1-800-XFINITY or online at http://customer.comcast.com/.  More details can also be found in our previous report here.

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