The free Wi-Fi honey pot

Facebook and Cisco Systems have developed a Wi-Fi service that lets customers trade their Facebook data for free Wi-Fi access. It's a trade-off that may not be as unpalatable as it sounds.

Stuck in the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas (there are worse places to be stranded) and you want free Wi-Fi? No problem: just use your Facebook login details to get online over the hotel’s Wi-Fi networks. In a pilot program being run at MGM (and other Cisco enterprise wireless customers), a Facebook-Cisco Systems partnership has developed a Wi-Fi technology called Facebook Wi-Fi Service that lets customers trade their Facebook data for free Wi-Fi access.

Chris Spain, a VP in Cisco’s enterprise networking group told GigaOm’s Kevin Fitchard that consumers are increasingly expecting Wi-Fi to be free when they visit restaurants, malls, hotels and tourist attractions. Increasingly those businesses are obliging, but they want something in return.

So the deal is that in return for MGM supplying free Wi-Fi, the consumer agrees to supply demographic and social data drawn from the customer’s profile. The data is anonymous, but as the Cisco VP points out, it could be used to send customers specific marketing promotions while they’re connected to the MGM network.

As Fitchard notes, the MGM Grand has a huge Wi-Fi network of hundreds of access points, and could gather lots of data from that network such as where people are congregating in its casino, which shops are being frequented and at what times. And by mining the Facebook data in real time, Fitchard says, MGM would also know what services to promote to those customers, according to their Facebooks likes.

Is this stacking the odds against the consumer? Not really. As a recent Amdocs-commissioned Coleman Parkes survey showed, consumers see the value in sharing their personal data in exchange for better service or cash rewards.

privacy

Gartner Research VP Andrew White recently wrote about a letter he received from his service provider, alerting him to the fact that “anonymous data about their products and services” that he used would be made available to AT&T and their selected business partners, such as details regarding which shops he frequented.

Given his background as a master data management (MDM) specialist, White understands the value of his anonymised data being used in this way: if he’s already getting advertisements on his cellphone, he might as well get adverts that are targeted at his specific interests, location and cellphone usage. 

White also applauded the fact that his provider alerted him to how they planned to use his data and the fact that he could have opted out had he chosen to do so. It’s all about an agreed-upon exchange: my data in return for a service that provides me with value.

Anyone who has visited a casino might know from bitter experience that most action in a casino goes one way, seeing as the house rarely loses – but at least the drinks are free. Now too, so is the Wi-Fi. Sort of.

Jeff Barak is Amdocs' Voice blogs corporate editor and the former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post.