Free Wi-Fi the Latest Battleground in Search Wars?

Remember when the search engine wars were about search? These days, it’s a given that Google won on that front, but that’s not stopping Yahoo and Microsoft from trying to beat Google at another game: free Wi-Fi. But, as usual, Google’s getting involved too.

Yahoo is providing free Wi-Fi in New York’s Times Square, complete with a landing page chock-full of links to Yahoo Local listings, Flickr photos, Yahoo News, and ads for Yahoo’s new home page. There’s also local events content from the Times Square Alliance, Yahoo’s partner in the deal.

Microsoft has teamed up with Wi-Fi directory provider JiWire in its Ads for Access program. Under that program, Wi-Fi users at any participating hotspot (mainly in airports and hotels) can get free access, if they agree to perform a search on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Google is offering free Wi-Fi at 47 U.S. airports, and on every Virgin America flight. Beginning next week, Google will run a photo contest on its Picasa service, where users can submit photos of themselves using Google’s free Wi-Fi service to win prizes. Google is also matching donations to participating non-profits, made through Google Checkout from those Wi-Fi locations.

All of these services are temporary, running through the holidays and ending in early January.

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