LinkNYC changes tack
September 15, 2016 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Over the past few months, LinkNYC has installed hundreds of its free high-speed wi-fi kiosks in Manhattan, and dozens more in Queens and the Bronx. In addition to wi-fi, the kiosks provide USB charging for phones, and—via a small built-in tablet—free phone calls, maps, and access to the web. They'd be supported via advertising on the big HD screens on each side and would cost taxpayers nothing. Or that was the idea, anyway...

The immediate concerns were privacy and security. But the system's first major challenges seem to have been less sinister: Homeless people and pornography.

Wednesday, LinkNYC announced that they were disabling the kiosks' web browsers in reaction to "some users [...] monopolizing the Link tablets and using them inappropriately." The monoliths' other functionality remains unchanged while LinkNYC and the city at large figures out what to do.
posted by Sokka shot first (105 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could have paid me a lot of money for me to tell you that this wouldn't work.
posted by Melismata at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2016 [25 favorites]


I mean.... it's 2016. I simply don't believe that the creators of these things didn't anticipate this.

Isn't the library model a better one for this kind of digital outreach anyhow? You have a monitored and timed computer environment where many people can be served daily.
posted by selfnoise at 8:31 AM on September 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


From the NYT piece: Users were expected to make short stops at the kiosks. But the sites quickly attracted homeless people and other idle users who took full advantage of the unlimited access to the internet to turn the kiosks into al fresco living rooms, watching movies and playing music for hours.

Yeah, agree with selfnoise about the library model - and the librarians who make damn sure the system runs smoothly. At my local library branch? God help you if your try to get away with such fuckery.

That said, regardless of who you are, you're welcome to come in and use the service - they'll welcome you with open arms. You just gotta follow the rules.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:39 AM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think the ad supported public wifi is a great idea. I think in a library, monitoring people's use of the internet is common sense, but frankly, when I'm on my phone, tablet, or laptop, it's none of your damned business what I'm doing. As a business, disabling the free browser is the right answer, AND hilarious, who thought that was a good idea anyway.
posted by evilDoug at 8:39 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Obligatory:

This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by the webmistress at 8:44 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


What I'm getting from this is that it would be great to distribute devices to low-income people. If they're willing to lurk around a tiny screen on the street to watch a free movie (or porn, but honestly, most people watch porn, it's not realistic to expect these folks to be different) it seems like a solution might be more access to devices that replaces the use of what's meant to be a convenient kiosk for short-term use.
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on September 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


I mean, basically, house the damn homeless and give poor people phones/tablets/WIFI. I don't hang around watching porn on public screens.....because I have a home and my own laptop, phone and WiFi. (Also, really, because I'm not super into porn. But I don't hang around public screens making everyone read 19th century horror fiction over my shoulder either.)
posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on September 15, 2016 [36 favorites]


Yeah, totally agree. Tablets are dirt cheap; if the city wants to be nice, they should try a giveaway or need-based programs. There are already a lot of programs like this for phones and there's actually a spot just outside our library on a side street where people will congregate with whatever device they have, whether a phone or netbook, in order to use the library wi-fi.
posted by selfnoise at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2016


(Also, really, because I'm not super into porn. But I don't hang around public screens making everyone read 19th century horror fiction over my shoulder either.)

I mean, nobody's forcing you to, but it does seem like something you ought to seriously consider.
posted by selfnoise at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


I could've told you how this was going to go. Homeless people use free resource intended for everybody. Some of them watch porn, because it's out there on the Internet and why not. Public goes up in arms, because why are our tax dollars supporting porn, think of the children. (Never mind that this was not actually supported with taxpayer dollars, large swathes of the public will still believe it was.) Then the complaints about how "those people" are the entirety of them problem. (No chance that a business person on a lunch break could be sneaking some porn too, none at all.) Public resource goes away, because "those people" are ruining it for everyone. Further criminalization of homelessness begins, people get questioned for innocently charging a cell phone while looking disheveled.

The only way to break this cycle and get usable public resources for everyone is to throw resources at support for homeless populations. Affordable apartments managed on a housing first model. Case management with social workers who aren't completely swamped all the time to connect people with those apartments. High speed internet for those apartments too, because we can dream here.

Poorly thought through programs like LinkNYC are literally why we can't have nice things.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2016 [25 favorites]


Of course people too poor and marginalized to have stable homes and internet access are going to use the free internet kiosks exactly the same way that anyone uses the internet. Who thought otherwise? Just the same way that, as the article mentions, people too poor and marginalized to have stable offices and telephone service used payphones the same way that anyone used phones: to communicate with people and do business.

I want to tear my hair out when I see these pieces saying "look at this tricky and unforeseen social problem. However can we solve it?" when the answer is always. the. same. Our intrinsically exploitative economic system demands poverty and a large reserve army of unemployed potential laborers. Poor people still gotta live, and they will utilize any resources made available to them to do so. Capital will NEVER solve homelessness or any of its attendant problems.

Of course, whenever you try to bring this up, you get a "yeah yeah sure sure we've heard this before..." as though the fact that people have been saying something for a long time is an argument against the idea.
posted by Krawczak at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2016 [30 favorites]


There're probably too many tortured specters and malformed twins lurking behind Frowner to make reading over their shoulder realistic. You gotta time it so that you can catch a glimpse through the crowd when somebody swoons after imagining the jungle too vividly.
posted by No-sword at 8:51 AM on September 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


The only way to break this cycle and get usable public resources for everyone is to throw resources at support for homeless populations.

I'd argue that the only way to break this cycle is to convince the rich and lucky to stop being incredibe pricks about these programs. I hear people complaining about the phone subsidy program up here all the time and just... fuck ooffffffffff with that noise. But I don't know how you get there.
posted by selfnoise at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm seeing what the problem was. Patrons were using the service at high rates. Presumably they were providing ad revenue due to clicks and eyeballs.

Unless the idea is that you really just want wealthy commuters to use your service because they provide a better user base for your advertisers.

But honestly this seems to be akin to the replacing park benches so that people can't sleep on them and other sorts of punish the homeless strategies.
posted by vuron at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Libraries are great, but they're a lot more expensive to run and therefore the hours are really limited. Plus these are in way more places, and they're probably easier for people to use socially than a quiet library.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm seeing what the problem was. Patrons were using the service at high rates. Presumably they were providing ad revenue due to clicks and eyeballs.

The ads in question are actually big billboards on the side of the kiosk (there may be small banner ads on the computer interface, too, but I doubt those make up any significant portion of the ad revenue). All passerby are targeted by the ads.

The problem is the publicly visibly porn-watching, and probably people monopolizing the computers so that the intended use (quick information searches) was hard to do. It's not a disaster, but it's a problem to many other people.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Count me as another person who doesn't see what the big whoop is. I love seeing people using those kiosks and feel like they provide an incredibly important service. Is it such a big deal if they are using them in ways that don't thrill everyone? I think their existence is much important than any downside I've heard about yet.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem is the publicly visibly porn-watching,

Yes, because OMG THINK OF THE POOR CHILDREN WHO MIGHT SEE A NAKED PERSON!
posted by Melismata at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm with vuron; this sounds like they were aiming for wealthy white people but were horrified to learn they got people who needed them more using the kiosks instead.
posted by Kitteh at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


"We introduced a bold new initiative to 'bridge the digital divide,' but then we discovered it was attracting 'homeless people and other idle users' so we shut it down." Also, they were "playing loud music" In public! Perhaps we should add passport scanners so only the temporarily-poor European backpackers we *want* in our bohemian neighborhoods can access the kiosks.

In other news, the poors are using our free public water fountains at a rate hundreds of times that of the typical upper west side jogger. We'd better shut this down before it leads to chaos and the complete breakdown of civil society.

Anybody want to guess how many LinkNYC employees, mayoral staffers, and city council members have never accessed pornography using their computers?
posted by eotvos at 9:02 AM on September 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


If they're showing ads, their goal is to sell things, so of course they're targeting people with money to spend, and homeless people are not that.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:03 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yes, because OMG THINK OF THE POOR CHILDREN WHO MIGHT SEE A NAKED PERSON!

Weeeeeellllll....I am not entirely sure that I want to catch glimpses of someone else's porn, or deal with folks who are surreptitiously masturbating (these are also library problems!). I have pretty much accepted that people's fantasies are not related in any point-for-point way to what they actually think about women, want to do sexually, etc, but an awful lot of straight porn designed for men is really skeevy, and I don't especially like seeing it.

I don't think it's especially good for small children to see and I don't think it belongs in the public sphere - porn that is about fake violations of consent, fake degradation of women, etc plays very differently as "this thing that is the public background to our days" than it does as "this is a thing that an individual watches to get off, based on a variety of personal reasons".

I think "let's try to arrange this so that people don't watch porn in front of [nonconsenting] others" is a good goal.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2016 [55 favorites]


Strange, usually the sentiment is against dudes jacking it in public...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:05 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


My assumption is that the people making these kiosks just didn't think of homeless users at all, period, because marketing and tech types just tend not to do that. There's not much money to be made off them and they don't fit well into the technocapitalist utopian vision, so they get erased.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


Yes, because OMG THINK OF THE POOR CHILDREN WHO MIGHT SEE A NAKED PERSON!

Would that be the naked person on the screen, or the guy with his cock out in the middle of Times Square?
posted by The Bellman at 9:14 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been a little baffled by these kiosks' design. They are big - their main function is highly visible digital advertising on the street. The access and electric access are honestly an afterthought.

Some other issues:

The tablet screen & phone keyboard are *low* to the ground. I think they are positioned for a child or person in a wheelchair's height, which are good. But the majority of adults need to sit down to use it, which doesn't lend itself to short use. It is also positioned so that the person using the tablet/phone is blocking pedestrians going past. (Not a small issue on the crowded avenues where these are placed.)

The charging ports are located under this tablet screen, so you need to bend way over to get at them, and interrupt someone using the screen.

The charging ports are USB, which makes me very wary, security-wise. I'd much rather charge from an electric outlet.

There are only 2 power ports. It seems like there should have been a minimum of 8 built into these things, preferably 12 or 16.

Overall a poorly thought out design.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:16 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm with vuron; this sounds like they were aiming for wealthy white people but were horrified to learn they got people who needed them more using the kiosks instead.

Not really. Wealthy white people have big data plans on their phones. They don't need free wifi kiosks. My neighborhood (Jamaica, Queens) was targeted for these kiosks as an early place to install them specifically because it's low income.
posted by Jahaza at 9:16 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is one of them on our corner. It's a HUGE eyesore, and blocks traffic. I wish they'd get rid of it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:16 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm assuming roomthreeseventeen is replying to The Bellman and you can't stop me
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


My comment can be about these kiosks, guy with his cock out in the middle of Times Square, or Times Square in general.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:26 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


No one should have to be exposed to someone masturbating in public. Homeless or not, it's a fucked up thing to do. There have been places where I stopped using the public library because it was rife with that sort of thing I didn't feel comfortable there.
posted by Ferreous at 9:36 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Some of the complaints I've read are clearly pure moral panic. "People are drinking and doing drugs at the kiosks!" Well, the kiosks don't actually facilitate that behavior in any way, so presumably the people would be doing the same thing in a doorway two feet away if the kiosks didn't exist. In other words, such complaints are more about the homeless visibly existing than any actual bad behavior. On the other hand, based on library experience, complaints about porn usage seem plausible, and I don't think it's excessively bourgeois to want to not impose nonconsensual porn consumption on passersby, especially in less commercial areas. But it seems that this problem can be addressed through less restrictive means than shutting down web access entirely. A reasonable time limit (15 mins?) on browser use seems generally fair, to allow access to all. And given the lack of staff to enforce appropriate use and the increased publicity, it may be more appropriate to use filters in this context than in libraries generally.

Basically, the scope of the reaction seems excessively driven by poor people using public facilities, which apparently has become completely intolerable in the modern city now that the boomers have moved back in.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Look, you don't even need to use the WiFi to be of use to me. All I need you to do is pass through a few different High speed wifi points and I have your commute, a rough estimate of how many of you there are and a whole host of information on your app usage and whatever demographic information I can tie you to. This is a veritable cornucopia of sellable information in the security state.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:43 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


praemunire, these kiosks are very close to the middle of the sidewalk, tough. On a very busy corner, it's impossible to get around them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:44 AM on September 15, 2016


The Internet is really, really great...
posted by the road and the damned at 9:47 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Not really. Wealthy white people have big data plans on their phones. They don't need free wifi kiosks. "

Well, since most of the population of NYC aren't "wealthy white people" and since I don't know of any true "big data plans" for phones since most of them throttle your bandwidth after a few gigabytes, I would say that, yeah, public wifi is desperately needed by most if not all.
posted by I-baLL at 9:49 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Not sure what your point is, roomthreeseventeen. I pass several of them on the way to work, so I do know how they generally look and are positioned. If the problem is that a person standing at them is obstructing traffic flow (and so far I haven't seen that, but then I don't observe every kiosk all day long), that's got nothing to do with who uses them.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 AM on September 15, 2016


If you all think a 15 or even 10 minute time limit is going to stop someone from using one of these things to masturbate to completion... My right hand would like to have a word with you.
posted by keep_evolving at 9:50 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I would suggest that kiosk locations do not provide ideal masturbatory conditions and that the men doing this are probably not accessing the kiosks solely for the purpose of the most efficient possible wank (after all, most of the complaints about porn-watching, not about people openly masturbating), so while a 15-minute limit obviously could not eliminate the behavior, it would probably cut down on it significantly. I mean, short of totalitarianism, you can't prevent any misuse of a public resource from occurring. The question is whether you can minimize it to a tolerable level, or at least so that the public resource isn't making the situation actually (rather than in perception) worse than it already is.
posted by praemunire at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2016


praemunire, my objection is to the kiosks in general, not who uses them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:57 AM on September 15, 2016


Ah, well, if you just think it's unpleasant to have those big ads on the sidewalks, that's a different argument, I think.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 AM on September 15, 2016


praemunire has a good point. Is this issue something that could be knocked down to tolerable levels through a combination of time limits and an automatically-updated URL blacklist? Would doing so unduly inconvenience people who are trying to use these things for their intended purpose of accessing information about their surroundings? What is the intended purpose of these, exactly? What is the intended use case for a free WiFi hotspot situated in the middle of a busy sidewalk?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:26 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why can't they just put in web filters, like the ones we have at work? It does a good job of preventing us from watching porn and gambling. The technology has been around for at least ten years.
posted by Melismata at 10:28 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Cranialtorque: "The charging ports are USB, which makes me very wary, security-wise. I'd much rather charge from an electric outlet."

This is probably intentional to restrict use; Even a high power USB port provides less than 20W. A 120V receptacle could/would be used for a lot of other things. Not to imply someone curling their hair or something is bad just not what the intended use would be. And there is a also a safety component; a 120V receptacle is a shock hazard in wet locations; locations subject to vandalism and available to children. Even in places like Airports 120V outlets require constant maintenance.

It is pretty easy to disable the data pins on a USB cord or simply use something like the USB Condom to prevent data access to your device while charging if that is something you are worried about.

Re: Time limits. How do you realistically enforce them? IE: a person who times out watching a movie or something would just start another session. A better solution might be to charge a fee, say $1 per ten minutes, to access the tablets. This would allow their nominal use of letting people get directions or send an email but discourage a user camping there all day.
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Time limits don't seem ideal to me. The problem is that instead of lots of people being able to dip in and use the things for a few minutes, people are hanging out and using them for entertainment for long periods of time. Persumambly a timer function would shut down the browser after X minutes and then temporarily block it? Wouldn't that just incentivize people to wait out the block and go back to what they were doing? If the temporary block is long enough to really drive people away, it seems like that would make it likely the next person coming up wouldn't be able to use the browser either.
posted by Diablevert at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2016


Also, do they expect people to keep using these through the winter? Because nobody is going to do that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2016


A better solution might be to charge a fee, say $1 per ten minutes, to access the tablets.

This just turns it into an internet payphone which while it may be useful is sort of antithetical to the idea of "free access." IMO even moreso than not having web browsing enabled at all.
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I envision the time limit just kicking you out and asking you to return the tablet to its dock, or whatever. If the issue is with people sitting around on their own phones/tablets and using the WiFi for long periods, just ban their MAC address for a little while. It doesn't have to be an insurmountable, unbreakable barrier, it just has to be enough of a hurdle to longer-term use that most people will move on or just not bother using it for things that take more than a few minutes.

Charging money for use of the hotspot would totally defeat the entire purpose of having these things. If people are willing and able to pay by the minute, they're going to be willing and able to just use their data plans and connect to the internet over cellular. Also, doing secure payment processing on these things sounds like a nightmare, and no way am I entering my credit card info into some kind of unmonitored public WiFi kiosk in the middle of the street. That sounds like a PITA, not to mention a great way to get your credit card info stolen.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2016


Also, do they expect people to keep using these through the winter? Because nobody is going to do that.

I live in Brooklyn across the street from a library that doesn't turn off their WiFi after they close. Save for Extreme Weather, there are always people hanging out outside of it with their devices.
posted by griphus at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


> now that the boomers have moved back in

Just a reminder: this sort of ageist bullshit has been officially deprecated at MetaFilter for some time now.
posted by languagehat at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


As someone who lives near these kiosks and has seen the issues firsthand, I hope that turning off the web browsing does change how people are currently using them, and that they will figure out a way to make them useful but not spots to take up residence in.

I was at first excited about their arrival because I thought it would cut down on tourists asking me directions (just go to that big interactive map thing over there!), and then disappointed to see that they were being monopolized by people who were setting up camps around them. As was noted above, the screens and outlets are low to the ground, so people who want to stay a while (I am not sure if they are homeless or just using the space for the day) have pulled up buckets and boxes and anything they can find to make a comfortable seating area for themselves. Understandable, even if you are applying to jobs from that tablet and not watching a movie, you would want somewhere to sit. The problem is though that it does block the sidewalk and when you have people sitting there all day, they bring their stuff and they produce trash and it becomes not only an eyesore but hard to navigate around.

Most of the members of my neighborhood groups (including the moms groups) understand and accept that homeless people and people without places to go for the day are part of our neighborhood and part of living in NYC, and there really has not been the overreaction/clutching your pearls type thing I see parodied in a lot of the comments. There were homeless people around before the kiosks and there unfortunately will be homeless people if they remove the kiosks. The issue is the blocking of sidewalks, the noise, the drug deals, and the giant ads, with a small but lesser dash of the porn and jerking it in public.

Walking by a group of homeless people on a sidewalk is not new or unusual, but it is harder to navigate when there are a bunch of new public sidewalk spots that people have "claimed" and put their stuff in, and are treating as their private spaces. This includes yelling at/getting mad at people who come to close or try to use the kiosk that they have claimed. I haven't personally been yelled at but I have witnessed it happen. And when I try to navigate my stroller around the kiosks and buckets, I do get glares and people trying to scare my toddlers who are right at eye level. My opinion is that I wish that there were more places and services for people who need them, but I don't think the middle of the busy sidewalk is the right spot, and it is creating conflict between the people who need the kiosks and want to camp out at them and the people who need to use the sidewalks as throughways.
I don't have much of a solution but it might be good to locate the kiosks in less trafficked areas, or put the charging plugs higher up, and separate out the maps feature and put that in the direction facing pedestrian traffic.
posted by rmless at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Seriously though, I am still having a hard time coming up with a realistic use for these things that doesn't involve homeless people using them for long periods of time. If you just want to look something up quickly and you have your own smartphone, that's generally something that can be done without using much data and without having to stay clustered around a kiosk in the middle of the sidewalk. If you want to do something longer-term or more data-intensive and you're not homeless, you can do it at home, at work, in a coffee shop, or somewhere else that's much more comfortable than standing in the middle of the damn walkway.

The only use case I can think of for these is for people who don't have access to better WiFi options, and who don't have their own smartphones with even modest data plans. That leaves homeless folks and kids, basically.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I live in Brooklyn across the street from a library that doesn't turn off their WiFi after they close. Save for Extreme Weather, there are always people hanging out outside of it with their devices.

I mean, that's a huge problem in itself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:55 AM on September 15, 2016


Wait, tourists still ask for directions and consult public maps and such? I had assumed that almost everybody who is traveling for leisure to somewhere as expensive as NYC would have a smartphone and know how to use it, at this point.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:56 AM on September 15, 2016


I live here and several weeks ago I spent like fifteen minutes trying to locate a subway entrance around Times Square on my phone when asking someone (which I would never, ever do because I have exceptionally stupid ideas about what constitutes 'pride') would probably have solved that problem much faster.
posted by griphus at 11:14 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mean, that's a huge problem in itself.

why
posted by beerperson at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'd just like to say that I enjoy giving directions so please feel free to ask anytime.

Interacting with a device is a much less efficient way than talking to someone on the street and I'm not sure why people would become so huffy about being asked.
posted by selfnoise at 11:17 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


why

Public loitering? Really?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on September 15, 2016


Wait, tourists still ask for directions and consult public maps and such? I had assumed that almost everybody who is traveling for leisure to somewhere as expensive as NYC would have a smartphone and know how to use it, at this point.

posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:56 AM on September 15 [+] [!]


Every. Single. Day. (its a combination of working a block from the empire state building and, apparently, having "that face," you know, the one that says "please ask me for directions")
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the best timer is one that just lightly touches on moral pressure: after a few warnings, it would close tabs, clear cookies, and display a polite "the ten-minute session has ended. If anyone is waiting to use the computer, please allow them to do so!"

I see the idea of the kiosks as the internet equivalent of water fountains: not the most convenient, but there in a pinch. Internet access, like water, should be a public utility and I support providing that wherever access is challenging.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think the best timer is one that just lightly touches on moral pressure

I read this as "mortal pressure" and I was imagining a robot finger coming out of the device to administer the Dim Mak.

Public loitering


What is "a crime invented to keep 'undesirables' out of public spaces"?
posted by selfnoise at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Public loitering? Really?

"Yo me and the boys are gonna hang out on the steps of the BPL. Have a few beers. Look menacing."
"At the library?"
"Yeah man. They got free wifi and shit. We can play Pokemon Go all night."
posted by zarq at 11:24 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wait, but why is public loitering a problem? What's wrong with people standing around outside a public building? Are people not allowed to be outside in NYC unless they are travelling from Point A to Point B?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:24 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


They actually installed a handful of these in my neighborhood in outer Queens. (Well, not my neighborhood, the one just to the West of my neighborhood, but close enough.)

No reports of homeless dudes jackin' it to porn on Queens Boulevard, but yeah. There is a solution for this problem that isn't "block all web browsing" and isn't "make it paid." Timers and blocklists seem like a smart start. 10 to 30 minutes at a go, block porn sites and streaming video and audio.

Everyone deserves Internet access, even the homeless. Cutting off the browsers completely is justwrong.

(There's also the huge issue about the whole LinkNYC thing spying on users behavior to target ads that I find very unsavory, but that's something for another thread.)
posted by SansPoint at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Public loitering? Really?

Considering the nudniks on the neighborhood Facebook group relish any opportunity to complain -- recently: a street fair scheduled for Sunday, September the 11th, heaven forfend -- the quiet people hanging out outside of a well-lit county building with security cameras has somehow not been a priority for their complaints.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


What if they are doing pot and uttering blasphemies
posted by beerperson at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


I have noticed that when people are on their devices they are generally quiet and focused. If people want to loiter as they discreetly watch porn, discreetly watch movies, discreetly play games or whatever, I am all about that. Similarly, device-use is one of the best things that has ever happened to bus and train rides - people are quiet. Five, ten years ago it was everyone yammering on their cell phones because they were bored; now people may be watching horrible and/or idiotic content but I don't have to pay attention to it.
posted by Frowner at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


In seriousness: New Yorkers put up with a lot in terms of quality-of-life issues. I don't want someone on the street playing loud music from a public wi-fi kiosk when I'm trying to sleep any more than I would want the guy in the next apartment playing loud music while I'm trying to sleep.
posted by SansPoint at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was a guy who used to hang out next to our public library in a dilapidated Ford Taurus. The airbag chamber from the wheel was gone, leaving a void inside which he had an entire netbook. This is of course a terrible idea, but also, let's face it, cyberpunk as fuck.
posted by selfnoise at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "Charging money for use of the hotspot would totally defeat the entire purpose of having these things."

The charge would be for the tablet not the hotspot.

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "Also, doing secure payment processing on these things sounds like a nightmare, and no way am I entering my credit card info into some kind of unmonitored public WiFi kiosk in the middle of the street."

I forgot Americans don't have dollar coins as a regular thing. But this this pretty much how parking is done in my city. You pay with either coins or credit/debit at little kiosks rather than meters at every spot.
posted by Mitheral at 11:31 AM on September 15, 2016


I'm not sure I'm seeing what the problem was. Patrons were using the service at high rates. Presumably they were providing ad revenue due to clicks and eyeballs.

While I suspect the porn thing is mostly just moral panic, I think that preventing the monopolizing of the free resource by patrons of any status is a good goal.

But honestly this seems to be akin to the replacing park benches so that people can't sleep on them and other sorts of punish the homeless strategies.

That's why I also don't have as much of a problem with things like the Camden bench as others do -- they make more bench spaces available for more people because no one can hog one by sleeping on it all day. Would I also be happy with a solution that converted the benches to sleeping areas at times when the public spaces were in less demand? Obviously.

Anyways, I'm sure I'm not the only genius who has thought of this, but LinkNYC could maybe fix a bunch of these problems by adding web filtering (never perfect, but it's something), along with requiring a login/password to use the web browsers. User accounts should be cheap-to-free, but tied to something unique enough to prevent people from easily signing up for dozens of accounts. Every account gets X minutes of web browsing per day.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


"The only use case I can think of for these is for people who don't have access to better WiFi options, and who don't have their own smartphones with even modest data plans. That leaves homeless folks and kids, basically."

Most people don't have "better WiFi options" when out in public. And why use your data plans when there's free wifi?
posted by I-baLL at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I forgot Americans don't have dollar coins as a regular thing. But this this pretty much how parking is done in my city. You pay with either coins or credit/debit at little kiosks rather than meters at every spot."

Yeah, this is how it's done in NYC as well except the machines take quarters. They might take dollar coins too, come to think of it. I'll check next time.
posted by I-baLL at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2016


I'm pretty sure I directly addressed both of your objections in the original comment, I-baLL.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:35 AM on September 15, 2016


User accounts should be cheap-to-free, but tied to something unique enough to prevent people from easily signing up for dozens of accounts.

Okay so now you got a guy that hangs out by the kiosk and rents out accounts he registered.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


griphus is spot on there. For a similar example: I was a welfare clerk, and we would give people $50 in emergency food stamps if they came in, filled out an application, and signed an affidavit saying they met certain criteria. Some people would come in, get the emergency food stamp card, and then stand near the supermarket a couple blocks from the office—where I would pick up lunch—and try selling it for half price.
posted by SansPoint at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2016


I hate these for the ads. Just like I hate the "interactive maps" in the subway. They take up a ton of space and are utter trash for their uses. Take the money for the kiosks and make a city computer center in a few places, so people who need computers can have access — maybe like near public housing complexes. Put up a fucking paper map that multiple people can look at at once and stop it with the invasive moving ads and eye-tracking and sidewalk blocking already.
posted by dame at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm sure most homeless folks would be happy to trade their "al fresco living rooms" for a place to live, but hey why do that when we can snark at people trying to survive.
posted by emjaybee at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: " I had assumed that almost everybody who is traveling for leisure to somewhere as expensive as NYC would have a smartphone and know how to use it, at this point."

NYC gets 50 million visitors a year; even almost everybody is going to result in a lot of no data/smart phone visitors.


dame: "Take the money for the kiosks and make a city computer center in a few places"

There is no public money for the kiosk that could be redirected.
posted by Mitheral at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only use case I can think of for these is for people who don't have access to better WiFi options, and who don't have their own smartphones with even modest data plans. That leaves homeless folks and kids, basically.

Ehh, I think the big one you're missing is foreign tourists who choose not to get a data plan. I remember being in Toronto last year for a day trying to get around without Google Maps and it was kinda a pain in the butt. These kinds of kiosks might have been helpful.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is no public money for the kiosk that could be redirected.

Take money from the corporations that you gave this public property to (Google, in this case, right?); call it, um, I dunno, taxes or something like that and then — presto! — now you do.
posted by dame at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2016


User accounts should be cheap-to-free, but tied to something unique enough to prevent people from easily signing up for dozens of accounts.

> Okay so now you got a guy that hangs out by the kiosk and rents out accounts he registered.


Yeah -- I don't have a good off the cuff solution to this (besides the nebulous idea that the account should be "tied" to something). Drivers licenses would be an idea, but if you want to make this available to the homeless that's not a fair requirement (see, e.g. voter id). Library card maybe? Or a Metra card? a hand print might be decent, if it weren't so dystopia-adjacent.

It doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to reduce the profitability of registering a bunch of accounts to rent out enough that the guy will find a better hustle.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2016


OK, that does make sense crazy with stars. NYC obviously has a lot of foreign tourists, and they need access to information about how to get around and such. A 15-minute time limit and a blacklist of known porn sites doesn't seem like it would cause a problem there, though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:55 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The easiest solution seems to be just block porn, streaming video, and streaming audio. That'll eliminate a number of the major timesinks that keep people tethered to the kiosks at all hours.
posted by SansPoint at 11:57 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I'm pretty sure I directly addressed both of your objections in the original comment, I-baLL."

I honestly don't see where you have though. You basically say that people can use wifi inside a coffee shop or restaurant but not every one of those has free wifi nor is there one on every block. Also, you why would you need to stand in the middle of the sidewalk to use wifi? It's wifi. It's got bigger range than that.
posted by I-baLL at 12:04 PM on September 15, 2016


what if instead of wifi it was a huge bunch of ethernet cords
posted by beerperson at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well I guess you could stand in the sidewalk, the street, or a nearby shop then. You might get run over in the street though, and shopowners probably wouldn't be cool with randos just chillin' in their store using the internet and buying nothing. Assuming I had money for a coffee and didn't have any obvious markers of homelessness, I'd probably feel much more comfortable going down the street to the nearest café, bar, or restaurant that had WiFi (they can't be that scarce—they were thick on the ground when I lived in New Orleans, which is an absolute backwater compared to NYC) buying a drink, and having a seat. I think most folks would feel similarly? I mean, reports here are that the people who are hanging out on these kiosks are literally parking their asses directly on the sidewalk, which I can't imagine is anybody's first choice.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:13 PM on September 15, 2016


It's a HUGE eyesore, and blocks traffic. I wish they'd get rid of it.

I don't have much of a solution but it might be good to locate the kiosks in less trafficked areas

The LinkNYC devices replaced existing payphones. Something large that blocked traffic and had ads on the side already existed there for a while.
posted by suedehead at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


These are both MUCH larger than the payphones they are replacing and are LIT UP WITH GIANT ADS instead of just having paper ads on the side. Also there is the issue of the encampments and "seating" and trash around them which expands the footprint of the kiosks much more than what the payphone area were. Surely you can see the difference with your own eyes, if you are here.
posted by rmless at 12:54 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


AND you can't even duck into one to discretely roll up a j or pack a one hitter. . .
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not just lit up, but lit up 24/7. It's unquestionably a different and larger visual impact than the payphones had. I feel that that's a reasonable concern, though I don't think it necessarily outweighs the usefulness of the devices.

Providing wifi to help foreign tourists is definitely a good thing (in foreign cities I end up carrying around the city Moleskines they used to make that have miniature A-Zs tucked inside, otherwise I'd have problems), but "merely" providing wifi access to city residents, including the homeless (and those people who have those cheaper phone plans where you can only make calls via wifi) is a valuable goal. The implementation needs some fine-tuning, but the impulse at the heart of the plan, at least on the city's side, is decent.
posted by praemunire at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Surely you can see the difference with your own eyes, if you are here.

Yes, I'm here, and can see the difference. It's lit up with giant ads, yes.

But it replaces payphones that weren't being used.

I suppose I'm biased because I think it's a very smart/interesting solution that the folks at Intersection (and others) dreamed up: how do you work with a city's aging and increasingly useless infrastructure (payphones) in a smart way that provides revenue and also provides a service to the public?

Ad-driven free gigabit public wifi that is also privacy/security-conscious seems like a pretty smart idea. In a city with especially high smartphone ownership (even/especially amongst low-income residents and residents) the conclusion seems to be that access to secure internet/data is enabling and equalizing.

But of course, the moaning and groaning of NYers concerning positive change is going to happen, no matter what. I'm reminded of when the citibikes were installed, or when the Times Square pedestrian plaza was created in 2009. "What an eyesore! We all hate it!"
posted by suedehead at 1:10 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


to be fair, we still all hate [being in] times square, pedestrian plazas or no.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:16 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


They should also make public toilets with built-in tablets. They probably could get PornHub to sponsor that :D
posted by floatboth at 1:18 PM on September 15, 2016


Yeah, as I said upthread, I am/was excited about this project and the idea of increasing tech and internet access to all populations. I still want to check out a kiosk for myself too and play around with it because I like new tech stuff. I just don't feel comfortable intruding on the camps that people have made around them in my neighborhood so I haven't yet.
Hopefully they can work out the issues and find ways to increase internet access without the ads being so giant and intrusive, or the kiosks being so monopolized by the people who have claimed them.
posted by rmless at 1:18 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


They should install those old modems that you hang the phone into on all payphones and give everyone free 14.4kbps dial-up internet access. In 2016 I doubt anyone will have the patience or attention span to do anything but the absolute most necessary tasks.
posted by griphus at 1:19 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


griphus, I seem to recall people downloading ASCII porn even in those days....
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on September 15, 2016


I mean that just comes back around to there being no real technical defense against the ingenuity of the desperate.
posted by griphus at 1:28 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


praemunire: "I seem to recall people downloading ASCII porn even in those days...."
"Do you remember the internet at this speed? Up all night and you'd see eight women."
posted by Mitheral at 1:40 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The LinkNYC devices replaced existing payphones. Something large that blocked traffic and had ads on the side already existed there for a while.

I don't think this is universally true. There's one near me where I don't remember there being a payphone before.
posted by Jahaza at 2:31 PM on September 15, 2016


I just don't feel comfortable intruding on the camps that people have made around them in my neighborhood.

This seems to be the biggest issue I'm hearing about from friends. Basically, living on the street has been improved by the kiosk, so the kiosk becomes the new spot to hang out. I can see where the problem is, but may have eventually worked itself out.

Mostly this program has been touted as bringing fast, free WiFi to NYC and that seems to be a success. Internet access on mobile is expensive, and lots of people in NYC don't have home internet access.
posted by cell divide at 3:16 PM on September 15, 2016


> griphus, I seem to recall people downloading ASCII porn even in those days....

In 1992 (my first year of university) some idiot a couple of floors above me in our co-ed residence got in trouble for printing out a bunch of ASCII porn and taping it to the outside of his door. He was allegedly trying to make some sort of point about "free speech." Ah, youth.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:50 PM on September 15, 2016


The problem is the publicly visibly porn-watching, and probably people monopolizing the computers so that the intended use (quick information searches) was hard to do. It's not a disaster, but it's a problem to many other people.

Or is the huge problem maybe the enormous swath of the population forced to live in conditions under which they actually, categorically, do not have any privacy, much less privacy to express adult sexuality? There's creepiness & then there's a lack of access to basic human security & privacy needs.
posted by listen, lady at 9:05 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Wait, tourists still ask for directions and consult public maps and such? I had assumed that almost everybody who is traveling for leisure to somewhere as expensive as NYC would have a smartphone and know how to use it, at this point.

Not everyone who travels to NYC is doing it for leisure, and you don't have to be wealthy to get into the city. Public transport is cheap and incredibly extensive.

And yes, people in cities use paper maps, public maps, and ask strangers for directions ALL THE TIME. I live in Philadelphia and work one block from the Liberty Bell. When I'm out for a lunch break or walking home from work, it's rare that twenty minutes go by without someone asking me for directions.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2016


Wait, tourists still ask for directions and consult public maps and such? I had assumed that almost everybody who is traveling for leisure to somewhere as expensive as NYC would have a smartphone and know how to use it, at this point.

I live here (and have most of my life) and still use the subway map and bus maps to help me get around when i go someplace new.

I also use google maps, waze, citymapper and hopstop on my phone or computer.

Big city.
posted by zarq at 11:09 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


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