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Facebook testing free Wi-Fi at retailers

November 07, 2012|By Salvador Rodriguez
  • Employees walk the grounds at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters.
Employees walk the grounds at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. (David Butow/For the Times )

The social network is testing a project called Facebook Wi-Fi that provides free Internet access to customers who have a Facebook account and "check-in" at participating businesses.

Businesses such as retail stores and coffee shops near Facebook's California headquarters in Menlo Park are using a router provided free of charge to test out the Wi-Fi program, a Facebook spokeswoman told The Times.

When customers come in to a business' location and attempt to access its Wi-Fi network, they can do so by simply using Facebook's "Check In" feature.

If users don't want to disclose the location on their personal Facebook page when they check in, they can set the "audience" setting to "only me" so only the user can see where they are.

When user checks in, they are directed to the stores' Facebook Page before they are given access to the Internet using the business' Wi-Fi network.

The retail stores participating in the program still have to pay for the Internet service, but Facebook's special router lets those businesses give customers the option of accessing the network by simply checking in with Facebook.

Typically, customers have to fill a form or survey or watch an ad before they are given access to the Internet.

Users who don't want to "check in" or don't have a Facebook account can still gain access to the Internet by entering a password provided by the business.

Should Facebook Wi-Fi move beyond the test stage and become widely available, it could be a welcome feature for both consumers and businesses.

Consumers will have an easy and free way to access the Internet while the businesses will be able to promote themselves to their customers' friends.

The idea for Facebook Wi-Fi was born during one of the company's famous hackathons in which Facebook employees spend all night programming new features for the social network. Some of the ideas become a standard feature, such as the "Like" button, while others never make it beyond a small test.

For now, Facebook Wi-Fi is at the test stage.

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