Thousands of people unknowingly agreed to clean toilets and pick up animal waste — just for free Wi-Fi

SAN RAFAEL, CA - JULY 02: Pedestrians walk by a KFC and a Taco Bell restaurant on July 2, 2014 in San Rafael, California. Fast-food giants McDonald's, Taco Bell and KFC all ranked low in a recent Consumer Reports reader survey that evaluated food quality, value and service in favor of smaller counterparts like Chipotle, Five Guys' Burgers and Chick-fil-A. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Free Wi-Fi is tempting; anything to save on cellphone data use is. Those overage charges aren’t cheap, after all.

But “Free” Wi-Fi is almost never free. Usually, getting access requires accepting some terms and conditions from the provider. But do those agreements say anything out-of-the-ordinary? And does anyone read them before accepting them?

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Purple, a British company that provides such Wi-Fi services to customers around the world, wanted to test it out. In a blog post, Purple detailed their findings. And yes, none of the people who agreed to the terms and conditions read thems. Even when they threatened to make the users clean toilets.

That’s right, to make their study more fun, Purple added an extra clause, saying “The user may be required, at Purple’s discretion, to carry out 1,000 hours of community service.” That included tasks ranging from “Cleansing local parks of animal waste” and “Providing hugs to stray cats and dogs” to “Manually relieving sewer blockages” and “scraping chewing gum off the streets.”

Virtually no one caught it.

Of 22,000 people who signed up for free Wi-Fi over a two-week period, just one that’s 0.000045 percent  caught the “Community Service Clause” inserted into the agreement.

The CEO of Purple, Gavin Wheeldon, lightly scolded his user base about the findings:

Wi-Fi users need to read terms when they sign up to access a network. What are they agreeing to, how much data are they sharing, and what license are they giving to providers? Our experiment shows it’s all too easy to tick a box and consent to something unfair.

What do you think?

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