It was rumored last year and apparently it’s official: Facebook will give you free WiFi if you start checking into various places using Facebook. And it’s a great deal! For Facebook! Everybody else gets kinda screwed.
The basic thrust of the program is Facebook bribing you to stop using Foursquare and start using Facebook Places to show thieves when to raid your house. Just check in and you get the free WiFi. Also, you fork over all your Facebook data to the business in question, which can then use it to… advertise on Facebook:
For Facebook, the Wi-Fi-with-check-in initiative is part of a broader plan to attack the local market by encouraging merchants to set up and maintain Pages on the social network. Participating merchants will get additional distribution with each check-in, receiving exposure that could help bring in more customers or inspire more “likes.” They’ll also benefit from aggregate, anonymous demographic data such as age, gender, and interests on customers who sign-in to Facebook Wi-Fi, and can then use that data for targeting purposes in whatever Facebook advertising campaigns they run.
To be fair, Facebook doesn’t see any money directly from the deal, although obviously it’s hoping to build more and more accurate profiles of where you go and why, and is probably paying Cisco a fair chunk of change to set up all these hotspots.
But it’s hard to see what, well, anybody else gets out of the deal. Most local businesses that even have WiFi in the first place generally want to tie it to people buying stuff so that the ravening hordes of laptop hoboes that infest every coffee shop will stick to places like Panera and Starbucks; Facebook ads mean nothing to a lot of them. And the consumer on the street has to erode their privacy even further so Facebook can try and justify its stock price, in exchange for free WiFi?
This will probably be pretty popular, even with the privacy concerns endemic in social media. But even so, it’d be nice if, just once, maybe everybody got something out of the deal.