BBC News

The rise of passive-aggressive wi-fi names

By Tom Heyden
BBC News Magazine


Some wireless internet users have been setting their network names to send snide messages to their neighbours. Why?

Predominantly, it's about noise. And sex. Well, noisy sex. That, and "stealing" broadband.

Wireless internet users are typically asked to assign names to their networks when installing new routers. These names can be seen by anybody within range who searches for networks.

Many stick to mundane options like "Home" or "Wireless01". The more adventurous may even use their surname or address.

But this is an era of bite-sized self-expression. It's possible to see names like "Drop it like it's hotspot", "Terror network", and "Virus Detected Shutting Down". Or witticisms like "Pretty fly for a Wi-Fi" and "Wi Believe I Can Fi".

Users of social network Reddit have gathered together examples that are less about the humour and more about sending a message to a neighbour.

Anybody who has house- or flat-shared has dealt with Post-it notes left on fridges. "Please throw away the box after eating my food" or "The dishwasher is the white thing with buttons" are typical.

image captionNetwork names are the new fridge notes

People are apparently doing the same with network names.

"Stop Stealing My Paper!" begins one exchange, to which the reply taunts: "FYI, I Don't Read It I Just Throw It Away!"

"You're music is annoying!" is followed by "Your grammar is more annoying!"

"Meat is Murder" alongside "Meat is delicious!!!" is another antagonistic exchange uploaded to image-hosting site Flickr.

Pet misbehaviour is addressed, with examples like "Shut The Barking Dog Up No 7". Another expletive-laden name demands neighbours stop letting the cat use their lawn as a toilet.

Noisy neighbours seem to be the principal source of complaint. Examples provided by OpenSignalMaps, a company maintaining a wide database of wi-fi network names, include:

  • "Stop slamming the door!!!"
  • "Stop wearing heels!"
  • "Shut up"
  • "Stop running"
  • and "Stop shouting!"

"Shut it Shoreditch" complains one about the area of east London. "Stop using taps" is harder to interpret. Actual water taps, or tap-dancing shoes? (Readers, have pointed out this is a line from an Eddie Izzard sketch Turney Button Things.)

Particular types of noise complaints dominate. Chief among these is sex.

"We can hear you having sex" apparently appears with a degree of regularity across Britain and Ireland, according to OpenSignalMaps.

Some add a courtesy "btw" (by the way), as if mindful of not intruding, while others forego the implicit complaint and plaintively request "please stop".

"My favourite a few years ago was 'StopHavingSoMuchSex'," notes K_Alva on Reddit of one network. "Ironically, it was unprotected."

Unprotected wireless networks themselves, or the "theft" of them, spark numerous network name complaints.

Most wireless networks now come with secure settings as default. But "Go Away Don't Steal My Broadband" and "Stop Mooching Our Internet" suggest that "stealing" of unsecured broadband still irritates some users.

One invokes a kind of technological 11th commandment: "Covet not thy neighbour's wi-fi". Another merely opts for: "Thou shalt not steal!"

Network name complaints are the "digital equivalent" of the classic fridge note, says technology expert Tom Chatfield.

But what purpose do they serve?

"My neighbours would have to do something really bad to go over and knock on their door," says James Robinson of OpenSignalMaps. The rise of passive-aggressive wi-fi names

Instead of awkward face-to-face confrontations, the network name jokers can anonymously send a message, and can target unknown perpetrators.

image captionMobile phone users with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi can also encounter the world of network name expression

"One of my neighbours has 'I can hear you having sex'. I don't know if they're addressing me, but they do have the strongest signal in my apartment besides my own," writes one Reddit user.

Chatfield is unconvinced that network name notes have much effect.

"It's targeted at the person to prick their conscience," he suggests, but often it is a "cathartic exercise" for the user's own satisfaction.

"I keep renaming my neighbour's linksys router to 'Shut Up Your Damn Dog'," writes eris_amazing on Reddit. "The war has been waged for months now, and at one point they changed the name to 'Plz stop'. I'm petty, and persistent, but their dog never shuts up."

New Jersey police did in fact investigate complaints about a racist wi-fi name in January.

But not all interactions are combative.

One generously offers "Free Wifi For Neighbours".

"Hola Neighbourinos" and "I like my neighbours" further show that networks names need not be a form of conflict.

Earlier this year, OpenSignalMaps ran a global search of network names indicating either support or opposition to Obama in this year's US presidential race, showing even politics is not outside the reach of network names.

Many now have mobile phones where they can do the same sort of thing with their Bluetooth names. It's even more suited to hostile messages.

The "Go Away" I recently encountered seems to confirm this.

A collection of readers' pictures was later published.