Facebook says it’s not a media company, but it just might be turning into a Wi-Fi finder service. Users of the social network’s iOS app report seeing a new feature in the More section that lets them find nearby public Wi-Fi access points.
The feature does not appear to be widely available at the moment, which means this is probably something Facebook is only testing. The social network tests numerous features all the time but this one is particularly notable.
As The Next Web points out, helping users find public Wi-Fi could enable more people to use Facebook Live. If your cellular connection isn’t strong, a nearby Wi-Fi location can be a big help—unless, of course, your Facebook Live broadcast is dependent on your specific location.
There could be other uses for finding Wi-Fi beyond live video broadcasts. If you’re desperate to upload a photo or recorded video, then locating the closest public Wi-Fi point helps. On top of that it’s just one more reason to open the Facebook app, which Facebook obviously wants to encourage as much as possible. Check where the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot is, see that unread notifications indicator at the top of the screen, and before you know it you’re engrossed in the news feed.
The impact on you at home: For now, this is just a test feature, or at least a feature that is rolling out very slowly, and very quietly. Nevertheless, it would be a handy addition to the Facebook app. It would also mean you’d need one less app on your phone since Facebook’s Wi-Fi feature would presumably negate the need for a Wi-Fi finder app.
That assumes that Facebook’s Wi-Fi finding feature proves accurate and taps into a database large enough to be useful. The Next Web points out that this new Wi-Fi feature comes shortly after Facebook started asking businesses with pages to voluntarily contribute Wi-Fi access point information.
The database may also have come from aggregating access point information from the phones of Facebook users all over the globe. That’s just speculation, but it’s not uncommon.
Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sense feature uses crowdsourced information for its database of public Wi-Fi access points. On top of that, building a Wi-Fi database is something most major technology companies do in order to help their device’s location services. Google did it using its Street View cars and, later, Android phones, and Apple collected location data from users’ iPhones, iPads, and Macs starting in 2010.