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Facebook and Cisco partner to offer free Wi-Fi at stores

October 3, 2013 02:17 PM ET

The partnership announcement also evoked immediate concerns about user privacy. Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, tweeted that the Cisco-Facebook free Wi-Fi service is a "scary proposition ... hink about the amount of personal data they will collect!"

In response, Tseng said, "Whatever concerns there are about what data might be shared are patently false." He said every visitor to a store using the service can bypass the Facebook check-in link, and connect to the store's Wi-Fi, which may or may not be free, depending on the store.

Even if a user chooses a Facebook check-in to get free Wi-Fi, Tseng explained, the user has the ability to set a privacy setting each time. The privacy control can be set to allow only the user to know what websites or Facebook pages are visited. At check-in, the Facebook server will only authenticate the Facebook member. "Any traffic or website visited, we at Facebook never see," Tseng said.

Spain said Cisco's Mobility Services Engine (MSE) will give each business offering free Wi-Fi a dashboard to see anonymous network data on information including user locations, whether users are new or repeat visitors, and the time spent in a location. "All the information comes from the network and that information is typically collected without knowledge of who the user is," he said.

Tseng said the Facebook Insight data about a user remains on Facebook.com and stays separate from the Cisco Wi-Fi data kept at the MSE appliance for the local business to access.

Facebook Wi-Fi first launched a year ago with a pilot test in the San Francisco area with 25 merchants. By the end of six months, the merchants said they had seen a three-fold increase in check-ins on their business Facebook pages. "For a small business that means a lot," Tseng said.

Four months ago, Facebook partnered with Wi-Fi hardware partner Meraki, and expanded its Facebook Wi-Fi to 1,000 merchants in 50 countries, Tseng said. Meraki was purchased by Cisco last November for $1.2 billion.

A pilot test with two Bonefish Grill restaurants is also underway. Facebook and Cisco plan to reach larger companies and many smaller ones in the future, but didn't elaborate.

This article, Facebook and Cisco partner to offer free Wi-Fi at stores , was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Hamblen RSSMatt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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