It’s no mystery that Facebook wants to gather as much data as possible about its users; something that they do rather effectively, judging by the all-too-relevant advertisements that are plastered across my newsfeed. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking it one step further – they plan to offer free Wi-Fi in exchange for knowing your exact whereabouts.
According to Wired, the project started off as a small experiment by two Facebook engineers during a hackathon held at company’s Seattle office. The idea was then relayed to top executives, where a small team was setup at the Menlo Park headquarters to bring the concept to fruition.
Facebook plans to place specialized routers in high-traffic businesses and cafes. Users who wish to access the free internet service must “check-in” at the venue using their Facebook account. Facebook knows that a market exists for this kind of social media, and they are eager to capitalize on it; after all, rival Foursquare has built their entire business around this very model.
Back in November, Facebook told Wired that “a small test with a few local businesses” would be conducted around the Menlo Park region. In the past few months, the free Wi-Fi initiative or "Facebook Wi-Fi," as they are calling it, has found its way into San Francisco via the Philz Coffee chain, and the company has also struck a deal with Cisco to incorporate this optional feature into their Meraki line of routers. Reports now suggest that Facebook has entered discussions with other router manufacturers as well.
It is currently unknown how the project will progress from here, but it is somewhat comforting to know that unwanted data collection might eventually come with a silver lining; and in this case, free internet is the consolation prize. The big question, however, remains: will consumers embrace or condemn companies that openly trade services for personal information?