Facebook offers free WiFi through Cisco, plus updated search

Small-business customers may find themselves checking into Facebook more often, as the social network just announced a partnership with Cisco, trading Facebook check-ins for WiFi access. But that isn't the only new trick Facebook has up its sleeve.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
In this Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, file photo, a Facebook User Operations Safety Team worker looks at reviews at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Imagine it's a Saturday afternoon and you need to get a little work done. You head down to your favorite local coffee shop, grab a hot cup of coffee, open your laptop, and log in to Facebook. But this time, you’re not procrastinating: you’re accessing WiFi.

Facebook and Cisco announced a partnership on Wednesday that would offer free WiFi to customers if they check in to a business on Facebook. The business would then be able to access anonymous data from their customers’ Facebook accounts, allowing them to better understand their target audiences, and potentially run more ads on Facebook.

The program was developed by Meraki, a small cloud-based WiFi based company acquired by Cisco in 2012. The idea behind the program is to give Facebook access to small-business ad revenue, while giving businesses the opportunity to understand their audience better, connect Cisco to a growing mobile audience, plus keep customers connected to WiFi (and their online friends). 

Privacy is a big concern with this new WiFi option, but businesses and Facebook will not track customers’ online activity or individual information. The business will get general demographic information such as age, gender, location, and interests, which Facebook hopes business will use for targeted advertising on Facebook. Eric Tseng, head of Facebook’s WiFi initiative, also told TechCrunch customers will have the option to keep their check-ins private, and set up an automatic check-in for frequently visited locales. For those without Facebook or leery of the privacy Facebook promises, there will be a login option requiring a password, per usual.

The idea was field-tested at a 25 businesses in the San Francisco area that saw their check-in rate jump three times the normal amount. Currently, it is open to any business that uses Cisco as their WiFi router. Will this translate to more advertising for these businesses, ad money for Facebook, or a barrage of check-ins on Facebook timelines? It remains to be seen. But for anyone who has tripped over a jumbled numbers-and-letters password, it is likely a welcome option.

But this is hardly the only new feature Facebook is rolling out. On Sunday, Facebook showed off a new function of Graph Search, which allows users to search their timelines for status updates, photo captions, check-ins and comments, according to a blog post on the company’s website. Searchers can even look for posts in a certain time-frame (so if there is anything from your early days of Facebook you would prefer to be unsearchable, now is the time to double-check your privacy settings). Facebook says this is “slowly” rolling out to a small group of users, but will continue to be released as kinks are worked out.

Facebook also announced a change to its new Home app Thursday, to include posts from Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, and Instagram. Facebook Home is an app that sets Facebook content and navigation to your smart phone’s home screen. Now, users can set the home screen to show posts from any of the above social networks, with the ability to quickly share that content to their Facebook timeline.  Currently this will be available on Facebook for Android Beta, and rolled out as testing continues. 

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