Would you like some fresh Timmy’s coffee to go with that tasty WIFI email marketing scam?
It was a nice August Summer day in Toronto; the week had begun and I had decided to spend my day working from a local coffee shop that had good WIFI instead of heading into my stuffy office for the morning.
So I decided to make my choice easy and head over to the local Timmy’s (Tim Hortons), Canada’s most famous discount coffee chain. After getting my coffee and breakfast, I opened up my laptop and settled into work mode at my table and went through the process of connecting to the store WIFI.
And that’s when things got a little scammy.
Connecting to the Tim Horton’s store WIFI is a rather simple process designed to initiate as soon as your WIFI enabled device connects to the guest enabled WIFI portal of the Tim Horton’s store.
So far, so good.
Until I experienced something rather annoying while trying to connect to the WIFI. After clicking on and agreeing to the Tim Hortons/ Bell Mobility terms and condition page (admittedly without reading it, yes I trust my corporate overlords) the WIFI portal page brought me to a secondary portal page that was designed to capture email addresses of the people using the store WIFI.
At first glance, it seemed like a pretty common practice. Heck, we’ve all seen it before, a company trying to get your contact info so that they can market to you so that you are compelled to buy their goods and/or services.
However, here’s where things started to look a little scammy. Was I experiencing a WIFI email marketing scam from Bell Mobility and Tim Hortons? Watch the video to see what i’m talking about:
As you can see from this video, this form was purposefully designed to confuse and obfuscate it’s unsuspecting users into giving up their email address just for some WIFI.
The “skip” button and text is so small as to be non-existent. This looks like Black Hat UX tactics, a name that should strike fear into you as the intent behind such tactics is only nefarious and meant to get into your wallet and bank account.
However, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and I thought it might be an error of some sort, and not a WIFI email marketing scam, rather something innocent.
So I called the WIFI customer support line offered on the portal page and spoke with their WIFI technician. I explained to him the issue and he feigned innocence; he didn’t know the skip button to get past the email intake page was not working at all.
In fact, it wasn’t even a clickable element, it was just text meant to fool the user so that they would eventually give up an email address so that the portal page could move forward allowing the user access to the internet.
I explained all this to the technician and he said he would make a support ticket for the issue, thanked me for pointing it out and then ended the phone call. I felt like I had done my ethical duty as a Web Developer & Digital Marketing professional for the public. Case closed?
Tim Hortons Free WIFI, Bell Mobility and Hackers
Tim Hortons is one of the largest publicly-traded restaurant chains in North America based on market capitalization, and the largest in Canada.
Millions of people visit Tim Horton’s on a daily basis in Canada. Millions of people who all have email addresses…millions of people who can be marketed and communicated to in various ways.
As most coffee shops these days, Tim Horton’s offers free internet access through their store-wide WIFI. Tim Hortons decided to finally step into the future back in 2012 with the rest of humanity and began offering WIFI to its customers.
“Tim Hortons has partnered with Bell, operator of Canada’s largest Wi-Fi network, after a rigorous six-month testing process with multiple service providers.”
Of course, what isn’t mentioned is that the two other providers are Rogers and Telus. These three massive telecommunications companies together effectively control over 90% of internet access for Canadians. They also control the price of mobile plans and internet access. This effectively is an Oligopoly, and the communications oligopoly that exists in Canada is actively engaged in price gouging Canadian customers with some of the highest cost mobile plans in the world.
But that’s a story for another time.
My biggest concern is that companies like Bell Mobility, Rogers Telus or whoever else are the absolute worst stewards of private information. That’s because they have a vested interest to monetize that private information to increase their profit margin.
“Free” WIFI in Exchange for Your Email Address
These concerns are not unfounded. In May of 2017, Bell was forced to report a major security breach that involved 1.9 Million emails of people, both customers and not.
That means enterprising spammers, hackers and phishing attackers potentially have over one million new email addresses at their disposal which they could (and probably will) use to scam unsuspecting Canadians.
Meaning that free WIFI you just gave up your private email for? Yeah, that just cost you your bank account and everything in it. Thanks Bell Mobility and Tim Hortons!
I went back into Timmy’s a few days later for a cup of coffee and do some work. I’m a creature of habit, can’t help it. And I was curious to see if my attempt to help Tim Hortons and Bell Mobility avoid scammy practices had helped.
Unfortunately it had not, the WIFI portal is still the same.
How come I’m not surprised?