Facebook, Cisco expand 'logins for free Wi-Fi' effort

Some may consider this the ultimate in convenience while others eye it suspiciously as the ultimate in privacy invasion, but either way Cisco Systems and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) are expanding their initiative that enables people to log into public Wi-Fi networks using their Facebook credentials.

Cisco and Facebook have been testing the concept with small businesses for about a year, giving the two enough confidence to expand it to national chains. They said the service will help large businesses--such as restaurants, hotels, retailers and other public locations--use Wi-Fi to raise their brand recognition and proactively target promotions and advertisements based on customer preferences and demographics.

As soon as a customer's mobile device connects to the Wi-Fi network of a participating business and opens a browser, the Facebook check-in page will appear. After checking in, the customer is directed to the business' Facebook page to receive the latest information or promotions from the venue.

Businesses will also be able to gather aggregated anonymous insights about people's activity on their Facebook page, including demographics such as age, gender, and city. That is likely to raise privacy concerns, at least among folks who think trading that sort of information is high stakes for a wireless connection.

"Businesses can analyze this data to better understand their customer's preferences and deliver targeted promotions--ultimately improving their advertising and marketing campaigns," Cisco and Facebook said in a joint release.

Cisco and Facebook are from alone in their attempt to use wireless technologies for location-based marketing efforts. But linking social media to Wi-Fi logins will likely provide marketers with considerably more information about customers than they would glean from, for example, the collection of MAC addresses from passing smartphones, as some London recycling bins had been set up to do earlier this year before being shut down due to privacy concerns.

And by acknowledging that they are logging into a Wi-Fi network via Facebook, customers will be giving the service explicit permission to use their personal information in an anonymized fashion.

The Cisco Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) with Facebook Wi-Fi is already in pilot testing with national brands such as the Bonefish Grill, which has deployed the system at two of its restaurants.

Cisco noted the new service is built upon its Unified Access architecture. Specifically, CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi uses a software connector on the Cisco Integrated Services Router (ISR) G2 or Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 1000 routers with UCS blades or the Mobility Services Engine to enable end-users to connect to the Wi-Fi network and check-in to the venue's Facebook profile.

Meanwhile, Facebook has been exploring other ways to link advertising and wireless technologies. This past summer, it filed a patent application for a social networking system that would work via a direct link between devices participating in a wireless mesh network and would allow individuals as well as advertisers to communicate with those devices. The system's design would enable it to deliver location-based communications and advertising between devices.

For more:
- see this Cisco release
- see this Reuters article
- see this CNET article
- see this GigaOM article

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