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Facebook offers free WiFi through Cisco, plus updated search

Small-business customers may find themselves checking into Facebook more often, as the social network just announced a partnership with Cisco, trading Facebook check-ins for WiFi access. But that isn't the only new trick Facebook has up its sleeve.

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In this Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, file photo, a Facebook User Operations Safety Team worker looks at reviews at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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Imagine it's a Saturday afternoon and you need to get a little work done. You head down to your favorite local coffee shop, grab a hot cup of coffee, open your laptop, and log in to Facebook. But this time, you’re not procrastinating: you’re accessing WiFi.

Facebook and Cisco announced a partnership on Wednesday that would offer free WiFi to customers if they check in to a business on Facebook. The business would then be able to access anonymous data from their customers’ Facebook accounts, allowing them to better understand their target audiences, and potentially run more ads on Facebook.

The program was developed by Meraki, a small cloud-based WiFi based company acquired by Cisco in 2012. The idea behind the program is to give Facebook access to small-business ad revenue, while giving businesses the opportunity to understand their audience better, connect Cisco to a growing mobile audience, plus keep customers connected to WiFi (and their online friends). 

Privacy is a big concern with this new WiFi option, but businesses and Facebook will not track customers’ online activity or individual information. The business will get general demographic information such as age, gender, location, and interests, which Facebook hopes business will use for targeted advertising on Facebook. Eric Tseng, head of Facebook’s WiFi initiative, also told TechCrunch customers will have the option to keep their check-ins private, and set up an automatic check-in for frequently visited locales. For those without Facebook or leery of the privacy Facebook promises, there will be a login option requiring a password, per usual.

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