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Occasionally when we have friends who are neighbours over to visit we are asked for access to our wifi so their kids can watch videos on their phone or whatever. Since neighbours are very close to within range of our network all the time, I would prefer not to grant access in order to ensure they aren’t connected when they are not with us. How to decline the request without causing offence?

Please do not ask about routers, networks, the cost of internet service, passwords, signal strength, or mention anything other than what is in scope: how to say no in this scenario without communicating mistrust or otherwise causing offence.

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    Please note that this site is for Interpersonal Skills this is not Super User. Answers must utilize IPS, not technical gatekeeping solutions like setting up guest passwords or using temporary passwords. Answers and comments failing to meet this requirement will be removed. – Catija Apr 21 '18 at 3:31
  • Stacks like this one involve a lot of subjectivity, unlike the technical stacks where I’ve spent most of my time over the years. All questions are answerable here, there’s just no single correct answer to the exclusion of all others. Ultimately I’ll end up accepting the answer that the community likes best. Erin Thursby makes some good points as well. – Fo. Apr 21 '18 at 18:46
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    @Fo. Yes, this site is more subjective than the ones you've frequented over the years. No, that doesn't mean everything flies here. Please read this blog post on what makes a good subjective site/question. Your question should hold enough detail and be worded explicitly enough to not leave people guessing at motives or reasons, like your comments here leave the community doing right now. Please answer the questions users ask you, to avoid having your question closed as too broad/unclear. – Tinkeringbell Apr 22 '18 at 10:00
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    Why are you afraid of causing offense? Have you already tried anything that went wrong? Don't remove the reference to neighbours, that'll certainly make this too broad, but also, why the worry about ranges, if they can get your signal at their place, surely they can get their own when at your place? Please add a location tag or some information on cultural/societal norms, since they may shed some light on why refusing may be offensive or the best way to refuse this... – Tinkeringbell Apr 22 '18 at 10:02
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    I'm voting to close this question this because it is a "What should I say?" question. – curiousdannii Apr 22 '18 at 13:05

10 Answers 10

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I'll start out with a warning: you are accountable for what happens on your network. You don't need to tell people that, but should keep that in mind. Someone uses your wifi to send a threatening e-mail to the President? The Secret Service will be at your door, wanting information. It will be up to you to prove that, even though it came from your network, it wasn't from you.

Keeping that in mind, I would say, "I'm sorry, we don't connect devices we don't own to our wireless." Leave it at that. Don't offer the above explanation; all you'll get in response is "well, we would never do that." Restricting traffic to only devices you own is a reasonable security measure; some companies do that.

The kids might get bored; I'd suggest investing in a couple good movie DVDs that they haven't seen or a Netflix subscription. Then you can say the above but add "However, we do have Netflix (or hulu or Amazon or whatever) and the kids are welcome to watch that while you're here".

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. If you really want to know what the asker considers offensive, that should be asked as a request for clarification underneath the question, not discussed underneath an answer. – Tinkeringbell Apr 25 '18 at 6:58
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    "It will be up to you to prove that ... it wasn't from you." In my country we have presumption of innocence. – BlueCompute Jul 20 '18 at 8:22
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    @BlueCompute We do in the US as well. The challenge comes when the threatening e-mail can be proven to come from your network. The owner is responsible for the traffic, so it's your fault - until you can prove otherwise. – baldPrussian Jul 20 '18 at 11:17
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Id´like to post a frame challenge. Not because I disagree, but because I think that´s a point that has to a least be considered when it´s about house-guests and politeness.

I think that nowadays at least some people consider it an absolute basic courtesy to offer WiFi-Access. Just like offering a beverage or providing access to a restroom.

The restroom is actually a good comparison - it´s also uncomfortable to have others in your private restroom. That´s why a lot of people have guest-restrooms, at no small costs. Providing an extra WiFi with captive portal to have a legally and technically separated and time-limited access ready is a comparative small cost to that.

If you want to be polite, for some people, providing WiFi is an implicitness. To them it will not matter what excuse you use - you failed your duties as host and will be perceived as impolite.

For the rest, the other answer are fine though!

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    I think the restroom is a terrible comparison, unless your guests are asking for the key to the restroom and with it unrestricted access to the restroom even when not technically visiting as guests. But there are no legal consequences to me as homeowner in how my guests use the restroom. If they use it to inject drugs into their arms, who would know? A more apt comparison would be the expectation that my guests get to have their own key to use my car. They can run over people, get parking tickets and create other trouble, use it whenever they’re in the area (because they have the key). – Fo. Jul 19 '18 at 12:09
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    What if I don’t want to have to re-key my car after every guest to ensure they can’t take it without my consent? Maybe access to non essential services, equipment, etc are out of scope for a basic home visit. – Fo. Jul 19 '18 at 12:11
  • Did you understand the term captive and time-limited? It will cost you at most ~200$ to set up something that addresses your concerns. What does a 10 sqft bathroom cost you? – user6109 Jul 19 '18 at 12:12
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    Your answer goes out of scope, as the question (and this stack) is not about technical solutions, it’s about interpersonal skills. – Fo. Jul 19 '18 at 12:14
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    You know, this answer is not for you, but also for others who are experiencing the same problem. For those wondering why they have still guests that are pissed off at those excuses, I thought I complete the picture. That´s what the term frame challenge implys. I´m sorry you don´t like it, but thats okay! – user6109 Jul 19 '18 at 12:24
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1) Provide a device for the kids as an alternative.

2) Use work security as an excuse. "Some of the files we deal with are sensitive, so it's in my contract that we don't connect devices not owned by the household. I know it seems harmless, but they're starting to crack down on it. Wish we could, here's a household iPad for movie watching." "How would they check?" "I don't know, but I'm worried enough about it that I'd rather just give them this iPad."

3) Say that you don't know the password anymore/everyone lost it and your devices connect automatically.

4) Bring up a news item where password sharing was a problem. "I know you guys would never do anything bad with my network, but what if your device was stolen! Sorry to be paranoid!"

5) Bandwidth/blame the gamer/work program. "We don't give out our password any more as a blanket rule now. We'd given it out in the past at our other place and some people were using it when they weren't here--too many people it crashed Charlie's/my game because it ate up too much bandwidth, so now it's a rule. I know you guys wouldn't sign in to our network when you weren't in our house, but, we just want to be fair, so the rule is for everyone. No devices on the network that we don't own! Thems the rules kids!" OR "I use a program that uses a lot of bandwidth to work from home (InDesign or remote access on top of a lot of programs on the home PC or something) and I can't run the risk of it crashing and losing all my work because other users are on the system. I know you guys wouldn't etcetera, etc..."

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    I think the first 2 options are quite good not to cause offence, but the last 3 sound risky to me. Your neighbors could feel like you don't trust them by any of those (and the third one just sounds like a bad lie). – Simon Baars Apr 24 '18 at 6:36
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I'm sorry, as a house rule we don't share passwords with people outside of family. If you need to look something up, I can bring you the family tablet.

  • Mention that it's a house/family rule, which tells them you can't simply decide to make an exception on your own.
  • You don't share passwords, which is easier for people to accept than not sharing WiFi.
  • You provide an alternative to sharing your WiFi, in case they have an exceptional need for internet access.

Do not even start explain why that rule is in place. It's in place, and it counts for everyone. Polite company doesn't question house rules as long as they sound reasonable - but if you give reasons for things being a certain way and they disagree with those reasons, even polite company may let you know.

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Since technical solutions are not acceptable (on this site, on other sites they would be more than welcome), the situation is: Your neighbours want X, it seems a reasonable request to them, but from your point of view there is no way you can give them X. For reasons that are good, but that your neighbour doesn't understand. In this situation, giving them X is unacceptable, but telling them "you can't have X" will not go down well (Oleg's comment "I would definitely be offended by that").

In this case, you could try giving them the wrong password, and after half an hour trying to get it to work you give up. Or you claim that you don't know the password, your son-in-law has set up everything on the WiFi and you have no idea what the password is and no idea how to find out what the password is (my wife would have actually no idea what the WiFi password is or how to find it, so this is quite a reasonable explanation).

I don't like lying generally, especially when it is unnecessary. In this case, I feel it is the best you can do. Obviously this is a situation where you get better results with a technical solution than with an interpersonal solution, so you might check on other sites.

Concerning recent comments: Somebody hasn't read the question properly. The question was "What's the best way to decline sharing my WiFi network with neighbours". I have the impression here that some people aren't reading the question properly and are downvoting for answering it.

  • what if then the guest simply logs in to the router from the host's PC to help out his technically unsavy neighbor ("oh you dont know the password, lemme find it for you") and gets the wifi password? – user1617 Apr 21 '18 at 14:33
  • The kind of guest who knows how to do this also knows that you should never give out your router password, so a lot of the discussion doesn't apply. Like if one of my colleagues visited my home, they know this kind of stuff, so they wouldn't ask me for the WiFi password, and if they did, I would say "you know that nobody should give out their WiFi password, so why do you ask me"? – gnasher729 Apr 21 '18 at 14:40
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    @gnasher729 Actually thats not true. Giving your guests your wi-fi password when they are over is common courtesy. Assisting someone close enough to you that they would invite you over in finding out their password is also common courtesy since it requires basically no effort and very limited knowledge. Saying something like "you know that nobody should give out their WiFi password, so why do you ask me" will come across as an eccentricity at best, and flat out distrust at worst. – Rares Dima Apr 25 '18 at 15:53
  • @rares Putting my professional software developer hat on, it’s not common courtesy, it is irresponsible and stupid. There are technical solutions: I have a guest network that doesn’t need a password. And if you have an iPhone then I can give you access without telling you the password. Tell you the password? No way. – gnasher729 Jul 19 '18 at 14:25
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    @gnsher729 Putting my professional computer science researcher hat on, it is absolutely common courtesy! Quite simply what kind of friends do you have that you consider giving them your wifi password irresponsible? This is not a professional environment so any attempt to brag about that is moot. You are talking about friends, it is no more "irresponsible" that letting other people into your home alone with you. Get over yourself and face the fact that while it might make you sound slightly smarter when talking to a tech person, in real life it makes you an unhospitable and impolite host – Rares Dima Jul 19 '18 at 17:57
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If you don't wanna share access to you network/internet at all, that's absolutely your choice (a very wise one), but there's unfortunately not much you can do except provide a plausible white lie or excuse as to why you're not "sharing" internet access. Society still is very network security unaware, and there's lots of unsecured wifi networks everywhere. So lots of laymen and laywomen and even laychildren expect (and demand at times!) wifi connectivity everywhere.

You can tell your neighbors that your network is setup using "MAC addresses" and only certain MAC addresses entered in by an ISP technician will work. You don't know how it's done. Any serious sounding, technical excuse will help you "save face" and not seem like a stingy/paranoid neighbor. Sad but that's where were are. Good luck.

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  1. Blame it on your work. I'm sorry. My work pays for my internet connection. And I'm explicitly forbidden to share it with anyone else.

  2. Blame it on your porn collection/"nudist pictures". Tell them that since you're sharing your entire private media collection on your private network, it would be a bad idea to give your password to their kids (or to anyone else for that matter).

  3. Blame it on your lifestyle. Pass around a big bowl. Drop your phone in it. Ask that all your guests turn off their phones/tablets and drop them within the bowl during the duration of their visit (have some analog toys ready for the kids). When inviting guests over, you can advertise this custom to them so that they're not surprised when they show up.

  4. Say 'No'. Don't excuse. Don't justify. Don't explain yourself.

  5. Give them the password. Then change the password after they leave. You should be changing your password frequently anyway.

  • I could say my wifi is always slow and dysfunctional and that I need a new modem. I prefer your option #4. No is short and sweet, oftentimes hassle-free. – Rita Geraghty Jul 20 '18 at 9:04
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Say that you whitelist the devices allowed to connect so letting them connect would involve you logging in to the admin console, looking up the mac address of the device that wants to connect and entering it in.

If they persist and press you to add the kids' device then clearly they won't take no for an answer so say you're paranoid about letting devices you don't have control over onto your network as you don't want any malware or something introduced.

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Put it on a technical level.

You can give an answer that's so technical that, unless your neighbor is a heavy tech savvy, he won't have any way to reply back.

Here's an example:

I'm sorry Joe, we were having problems with the wifi devices not getting an IP from the DHCP server for some reason and a tech savvy friend of mine found out that disabling it and assigning the IP manually to each family's device through the router settings fixed the problem. To give you access I would have to ask him to tinker with the settings, I'd rather not bother him.

Even if honestly I'd enable the "guest wifi" that most routers have and keep it on just when I have guests

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Data Caps

Do you have a limit on Data? More and more internet providers (in the US at least) are limiting how much data you can use per month. If so, the simplest solution would be to suggest that with your limited data you aren't comfortable risking the fees associated with going over.

"I'm sorry, but we generally run pretty close to our data cap each month."

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