Cisco Meraki Launches “Presence,” With Facebook Account Log-In To Wireless Networks

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Cisco Meraki has launched a new service called Presence that provides data about mobile behavior across location and automatic log-in to wireless hotspots using a person’s Facebook account.

Presence additionally provides an API that allows integration with real-time location data into CRM and other business systems. Presence also allows for third-party data integration that can be analyzed with location-based information.

Meraki was acquired by Cisco last November for $1.2 billion. According to Josh Constine’s post, Meraki began as a research project at MIT in 2006. It provides mid to large-size companies, schools, and organizations with on-premise mesh Wi-Fi networking and security devices plus the software to manage them. Its technology is now integrated into Cisco access points. According to the blog, with Presence, customers get an analytics dashboard that displays real-time metrics such as capture rate, median visit length, and visitor repeat rate for mobile devices in proximity to Meraki access points.

The service has uses in retail to give a marketing manager access to data that may show how long they look at a window display or if an in-store promotion drew them to the store. That data can then be correlated to revenue data and third-party CRM data.

Cisco and Facebook have also partnered to let guests log-in to Wi-Fi networks with their Facebook account. This seems pretty unique and an example of how Facebook is becoming a universal identity provider. It benefits the client who can use the Facebook login to make it simpler for their customers to get wireless access.

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Now just think of what all this additional data provides to Facebook. They get data to target ads for the retail customer or perhaps a coffee shop down the street that wants to draw traffic with a special drink offer for a dry latte with extra foam.

Privacy. Well, this is the elephant in the room, isn’t it? The Meraki blog makes a point of saying they do not collect personal data. That it’s nothing more than understanding customer behavior.

In summary, Meraki collects no personally identifiable information (e.g., we don’t see or store a user’s Facebook credentials). Clients’ MAC addresses, used to construct location analytics dashboards, are hashed and truncated before being stored in Meraki’s cloud so they cannot be associated with an individual device (i.e. there’s no data stored that can show that a given device was at a specific location.) Users can also opt-out of Meraki’s Presence data collection across all Meraki networks; we won’t store MAC addresses — hashed or otherwise — and Presence events will not be passed through the API.

But here’s the thing. Data analytics is about correlating information. A retailer may not need to know who you are with one set of data. But they can always cross-reference it with other information to know exactly who the customer is, how they got there, what they did in the store and where they went after leaving.

So sure, everyone takes privacy seriously. But it’s up to the vendor and the client to be responsible in how to handle the power that they gain from all that information.