Now that we know about the NSA and PRISM, would you be willing to give up even more information about yourself to one of the spy program’s alleged participants, in return for free Wi-Fi? Facebook is gambling that your answer will be a resounding “yes please.”
According to a report in Wired, Facebook has apparently expanded a test of a service it likes to call Facebook Wi-Fi. Originally only available at its Menlo Park, California headquarters, Facebook Wi-Fi is now said to be on offer at a number of cafes in nearby San Francisco and Palo Alto, and also through some Cisco routers. Anyone who wants to use Facebook Wi-Fi may do so for free, but only if they “check in” at their location using their Facebook profiles. Wired says that the initiative has already been positively received, having carried out successful tests at a number of local businesses in the Menlo Park area since November last year.
With regards to Cisco, Facebook Wi-Fi is now available as an optional service for users of its Meraki routers, according to Wired’s Ryan Tate. The website adds that Facebook is discussing similar deals with other router manufacturers.
Tate even goes out on a limb, when he suggests that Facebook Wi-Fi will be an integral part of the anticipated Facebook press event this Thursday:
“Where Facebook Wi-Fi goes from there remains to be seen. It was impossible not to wonder if a major expansion might be in store last week, when Facebook sent out java-stained invitations to the press, inviting reporters to “Join us for coffee and learn about a new product … a small team has been working on.”
“The Facebook Wi-Fi initiative could also be part of Facebook’s efforts to gather as much local information as possible for its Graph Search and its advertising offerings.”
Presuming Wired has got its facts straight and Facebook really is preparing to roll out its Wi-Fi service on a much wider scale, one can’t help feel that the timing is a little bit off. Consumer fears over data privacy are at an all-time high following Ed Snowden’s revelations over PRISM, and the fact that Facebook – one of the chief conspirators (if you believe Snowden) – is now blatantly asking to know even more about you in return for a free service seems just a tad insensitive.
Still, Facebook’s motivations are understandable enough. In the highly competitive world that is internet advertising, marketers are willing to pay high prices for location data that shows where you’re going and what you might be buying, and Facebook knows its one of the few companies that’s able to provide it.
But will internet users be willing to give it to them? Almost certainly yes, for there’s no denying that people just love a freebie, particularly where Wi-Fi is concerned, and once the furore over PRISM dies down it’s unlikely that many users will actually remember or care about whatever it is they could be sacrificing. If nothing else, the one thing that the PRISM débâcle has taught us is that a huge number of web users are quite indifferent to the whole affair, and its this kind of apathy that Facebook is betting it can profit on.