Remember the old A&P? They did not disappear; they just rebranded themselves as Superfresh. Comcast is doing the same thing with its new Internet Service Provider (ISP) brand, XFinity, and they are expanding across the country.
Search for XFinity hot spots, and you will bring up a map that looks like the contagion map from the movie, Outbreak. XFinity has already covered New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington D.C. with cheap connectivity. The network is quickly becoming a factor for cable customers. Particularly now that 4G data connectivity is so expensive, people want to supplement or possibly replace data plans with Wi-Fi.
The company is spreading its coverage largely through its network of “partners.” When a business orders XFinity Internet, they will come in and install the services, along with your router. Now, they are also offering to install a separate, secure XFinity hotspot to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal to the public.
In sparse cities, like Atlanta, the connective mesh might not be strong enough to compete with 4G. But in urban environments like New York City, the network could offer roughly equivalent Internet browsing. Through their hotspots, they will also be able to record user information and sell it back to companies or ad agencies.
The game is about delivering internet access and tracking user data. We are quickly approaching the world imagined in Vanilla Sky, where targeted ads call you by name as soon as you enter a business establishment. This sounds exciting, but when companies can act on your data, they gain a powerful tool that might not always be in your best interest.
The ramifications impact more than the purchases you make. If our search histories are constantly used to bombard us with similar deals and products, then we become increasingly insulated from randomness. The chance that something new will grab our attention and change our perspective shrinks. Ironically, the effect could be to tie up our lines of communication when the Internet was designed for the opposite purpose.