Facebook is testing free Wi-Fi in San Fran, Silicon Valley

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and its advertisers want to know where its subscribers are, and the company is working to convince Wi-Fi users to give up that information in exchange for free Wi-Fi service.

The social networking giant is testing "Facebook Wi-Fi" in cafes located in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif., with businesses like Philz Coffee trying it out, according to Wired.

The Wi-Fi service requests users "check in"--as they might with foursquare--using their Facebook account at the business location they are visiting. Upon doing so, or after they click a small opt-out link, they are granted wireless Internet access.

The service is already an optional feature on Cisco Meraki wireless routers, as detailed in a blog entry posted last month by Emily Sporl, Cisco Meraki product marketing manager. According to Wired, Facebook mobile product manager Erick Tseng said Facebook is in discussions regarding Facebook Wi-Fi with other router makers as well.

According to Sporl, locations offering the Facebook Wi-Fi service will gain aggregate demographic information of the customers checking in. Participating businesses will also get increased exposure on Facebook because each guest that checks in they will land on the venue's Facebook Page, where the user can like the business' page and interact with the business.

The ability to gather location information and other personal data about Facebook's users is considered crucial because that is exactly the type of information advertisers want. Along those lines, Facebook was reportedly courting Waze, developer of an application featuring crowdsourced mapping and navigation, but Waze eventually succumbed to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) charms.

Facebook's future depends advertising, which is why Dan Levy, Facebook director of small business, announced via a blog entry this week that the company now has more than 1 million businesses that are active advertisers. Advertising accounts for more than 85 percent of Facebook's revenue, but the company struggled with a sharp slowdown in ad growth last year, said Reuters.

Facebook Wi-Fi has been tested publicly since at least November 2012, when the company confirmed the effort's existence to InsideFacebook, saying then that it was confined to a few local businesses around the company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The system was initially developed during an all-night hackathon in May 2012 at Facebook's Seattle office by engineers Mohit Talwar and Adrian Potra, according to Geekwire.

Wired wondered whether Facebook Wi-Fi might be rolled out on a larger basis during Facebook's hush-hush June 20 press event. However, TechCrunch has reported that event is being held to announce Facebook will add video capture capabilities to Instagram, bringing the photo-sharing application in line with rival Twitter's popular Vine.

For more:
- see this Wired article
- see this Facebook blog entry
- see this Reuters article

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