Link's public Wi-Fi access points are coming to London, marking the hubs' first expansion outside of New York. The LinkUK "Links" kiosks will be coming to the British capital in 2017 in a partnership with telecoms company BT. Each kiosk will offer a number of free services including gigabit Wi-Fi connections, two USB charging ports for your devices, a touchscreen tablet for pulling up maps, and free calls to UK landlines and mobile phones.
When they first launched in New York City in February, Link's booths also included touchscreen tablets that allowed users to browse the internet for free, but the company was forced to disable the feature after it was reported that people were camping in front of the booths to access pornography. "The kiosks were never intended for anyone's extended, personal use," Link said at the time, stating that it wanted to "ensure that Links are accessible and a welcome addition to New York City neighborhoods."
Controversy plagued Link before the first kiosk was even installed. Elected officials criticized the city's original plan because it would have resulted in slower internet speeds in the Bronx and Brooklyn as compared to Manhattan. Also, one of the companies that later became involved in the Link consortium, Titan, came under fire in 2014 for using Bluetooth beacons to track people walking past to serve them ads. Titan reacted quickly to complaints about the beacons, removing them from the final units. Titan later merged with Control Group to form Intersection, which is helping to run Link with investment money from Sidewalk Labs, a Google spinoff company. (It's a complicated web of names and corporate interests that causes frequent head-scratching.)
The Link hubs installed in New York City do contain Bluetooth beacons to collect anonymized data from users that agree to receive the signals. The company uses the data to make decisions about the types of ads it places on the sides of the kiosks. And concerning internet speeds, Link says it has no plans to offer anything less than gigabit speed in all the boroughs.
While the British booths will feature two ad billboards on the side, it's not yet clear whether they'll also be able to track passersby. The booths will be subsidized by advertising revenue on their digital displays, with 5 percent of ad-time dedicated to "causes to benefit local communities." Up to 100 kiosks will be installed in the London borough of Camden, with the first units set to appear in 2017. Following this, BT expects to bring up to 750 kiosks to London and other UK.
Correction October 25th, 3PM ET: LinkNYC says it offers gigabit-speed Wi-Fi at all its kiosks. This article originally stated that LinkNYC came under fire for their variance in internet speeds, which was a controversy that predated the hubs installation. Also, Titan was criticized for using Bluetooth beacons to track people walking past to serve them ads. This article originally stated that LinkNYC was criticized for the beacons.