Facebook’s Free WiFi Play May Improve Its Local Ads Data, Business Pages

Teams with Cisco to trade check-ins for wireless access

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Facebook and Cisco are rolling out a free WiFi system for businesses. But here's the catch: to take advantage of this free Web surfing, consumers are required to check-in to whatever local business they are visiting via Facebook.

Bay Area java shop Philz Coffee has been quietly testing the program—dubbed CMX for Facebook—since January 2012. Though Bonefish Grill is now running the system in two of its 158 restaurants, while conference center brand Evergreen Brickworks (video below) has implemented it as well, the companies said.

For CEO Mark Zuckerberg's firm, the development should bolster its location data on users, potentially bettering local-ads targeting on the social platform. Secondly, Facebook hopes that more consumers "like" retailers' pages while taking advantage of the offer, strengthening the platform's local-business presence.

With each aspect in mind, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company appears to want to take more turf from Foursquare (check-ins) and Google (business pages).

From today's announcement: "Consumers connect to the network of a participating business, open their browser on any mobile device or laptop, and a Facebook check-in page appears. After checking in, consumers are directed to the business' Facebook Page, where they can receive the latest information about the venue. Facebook provides aggregated anonymous insights about people's activity on their Page, including demographics such as age, gender, and city. Businesses can analyze this data to better understand their customer's preferences and deliver targeted promotions—ultimately improving their advertising and marketing campaigns."

How do businesses get plugged into the service? Per an email from a Facebook spokesperson, "Any business is welcome to use Facebook WiFi. You just need a router that supports Facebook WiFi, and a valid local business Page on Facebook."

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco will provide the infrastructure behind the program.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.