Jul 3, 2017

Facebook's Find WiFi goes global, ramps up user tracking

Wherever you roam in the world the social media giant wants to ensure you can always find a WiFi hotspot, and that Facebook can always find you.

International roaming can get expensive, especially when it comes to data, so free public WiFi hotspots can save the day when you're travelling. You can often rely on the usual suspects like Apple, Starbucks or McDonald's, but Facebook aims to come to your rescue if you're trapped in a WiFi wasteland.

Of course it would be naive to think that Facebook's biggest concern is helping you to avoid hefty international roaming charges. Obviously it wants to encourage us to use social media more when we're on the road, plus it's using the Find WiFi feature to forge a stronger relationship with small businesses.

The real price we pay is that Facebook insists on tracking your every move if you want to take advantage of Find WiFi, and there's no way around it.

Facebook isn't compiling its own map of open WiFi hotspots, instead it's letting businesses register their hotspots so they appear under the new Find WiFi menu in the Facebook mobile app. It's been open to Australian businesses since late last year, but some major retailers have declined to take up Facebook's offer.

Looking around my neighborhood, Find WiFi appears to be dominated by cafes, gyms and small retailers who are keen to use Facebook to get more people in the door. You can see their locations spread out on a map or else view them in a list, plus it's possible to move to another location on the map and search for open WiFi networks in that area – which is handy for planning ahead.

Head to the nearest shopping centre and big names like Apple and Samsung are conspicuous by their absence – presumably preferring not to play Facebook's game. Other major retailers like Telstra, Officeworks, David Jones and McDonald's are onboard.

The list is far from complete, for example some Maccas in my area are missing even though I know they run a hotspot. Likewise only some of my local libraries are included, even though they all offer free WiFi.


The Sydney Morning Herald

by Adam Turner