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Facebook offers 'free' Wi-Fi in exchange for check-ins

More hotels, shops and other businesses will soon be offering free Wi-Fi to customers if they agree in return to "check-in" at the business from their Facebook account.

It's the result of a partnership between Facebook and Cisco Systems that's been in pilot since last year and is now being rolled out more broadly, the companies said Wednesday.

To take part, businesses must first load a piece of Facebook software onto their Cisco router. When a customer opens a Web browser they're taken to a page that asks them to "check in" using their Facebook login. In return they get access to the Wi-Fi.

Businesses can benefit because the check-ins give them more exposure on Facebook. The social network will also give them information about the people who check in, like their age, sex and location, which the businesses can use for marketing programs. Facebook says it will provide "aggregated, anonymous" data, meaning it won't be linked to individuals.

"Businesses can analyze this data to better understand their customer's preferences and deliver targeted promotions," Facebook said, "ultimately improving their advertising and marketing campaigns."

Facebook benefits, too, because it encourages businesses to set up Facebook Pages and possibly run more ads on Facebook. And it helps Facebook keep the attention of its users, who can also get free Internet access from Google at places like Starbucks.

The offer extends a pilot that saw about 1,000 Wi-Fi deployments at small and medium-sized businesses in 50 countries. The program announced Wednesday is designed to target larger companies, a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Some of the world's best-known businesses are piloting the service, according to Cisco, though it didn't name many. It said the restaurant chain Bonefish Grill is testing the service at two restaurants in the U.S.

The program could also help businesses target their advertising campaigns for customers checking in on mobile devices. Mobile is an important channel because more than 50 percent of consumers use mobile phones while shopping in a store, Cisco said.

If people don't want to sign in using Facebook, they'll still be able to access the Wi-Fi by entering a code, Facebook said, though presumably it will be up to the business whether they provide them with it.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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