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Surfing for bucks

To: Internet users
Re: View ads, surf the web, get paid!

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For every hour Tony Garcia spends on the Internet, he makes 53 cents. For every hour his wife, Annette, surfs the Net, he makes another 10 cents. And for every hour his sister travels along the information superhighway, he makes 5 more cents. And so on, and so on.

It doesn't sound like much, but with all the time people spend on the Internet these days, Garcia ends up making about $700 a month.

The Bountiful resident is a member of AllAdvantage.com, a Web site that pays consumers an hourly rate for viewing advertisements while they surf the Net.

Such consumer-to-business, or infomediary, Web sites are a rising trend. Numerous sites have surfaced over the past couple of years and claim millions of users in more than 200 countries.

According to Gregg Stebben, whose title is AllAdvantage.com's chief Internet evangelist, these sites allow people to be in control of their own personal information, which is readily available on the Internet, and make money at the same time.

Each time people log onto the Internet, Stebben said, their information and surfing habits are tracked for marketing purposes.

"People were griping about the fact that someone else was making money off of them and all they were getting out of it was ads," Stebben said.

After signing up with AllAdvantage.com, members download a Viewbar, which is approximately the same length as the task bar on a personal computer and twice as tall. It can be placed on the top or the bottom of the screen, depending on the user's preference, and it constantly displays ads. The bar also tracks members' surfing habits and develops a profile based on members' interests.

For example, Garcia was shopping online for flowers for his wife recently. As he visited several sites, he noticed an advertisement on his Viewbar for a flower shop offering him better prices than any other sites he had visited.

"It's a logical use of technology," Stebben said. "It's such an exciting extension of the technology we have today — to have a company that can really anticipate your needs and fill them for you."

Clickdough.com has a similar approach to the Internet.

As members log onto the Internet, they visit ClickDough's site, open their personal window and begin earning money. The window is about the same size as a traditional banner ad and sits on the top of the screen. Members have the option of allowing the window to "pop up" occasionally or have it always sit under whatever program they are using.

Chris Yeh, ClickDough's chief marketing officer, said his company does more than simply pay people for looking at ads. It provides a service of personalized offers and special deals based on members' interests.

"We don't really pay people to look at advertisements," Yeh said. "We act as agents between the consumer and the advertiser."

ClickDough's members earn approximately 20 cents an hour, although that figure can increase or decrease depending on a couple of factors.

Remember how Garcia can earn money for each hour his wife and sister are on the Internet? They, along with many of his friends and co-workers, are Garcia's "referrals."

AllAdvantage.com and ClickDough offer their members the chance to earn more money for referring people to the Web sites. The more referrals a person has, the greater their earning potential.

Members of ClickDough who surf eight hours per day and have no referrals can make $22 a month. With just one referral, users can earn $35 a month.

The last time he checked, Stebben said AllAdvantage.com's top earner had more than 50,000 referrals and made thousands of dollars a month.

Garcia attracts referrals, like most members do, by word of mouth advertising among family, friends and co-workers. But Garcia has taken it a step further. He started his own Web site, www.surfmoney.com, which allows people to sign up to the service directly. Garcia's site also includes a copy of a check to him from AllAdvantage.com to assure potential members that he has received money from the company.

"This is not easy money," Stebben said. "These are people who are working at this and are reaping the rewards."

To those who may say the referral levels sound like pyramid schemes, both Yeh and Stebben said there are two major factors that distinguish the sites from the illegal scams.

First, pyramid schemes traditionally require their members to pay some sort of entry fee.

"Most people understand that the first thing you do to get into a pyramid scheme is to write a big, fat check," Stebben said. "We don't want their money."

In the year Garcia has been a member of AllAdvantage.com., he has not been required to purchase anything online or even to visit the advertisers' Web sites.

"You don't have to put out money," Garcia said. "The user doesn't put out one cent. All you do is surf with the Viewbar."

Second, pyramid schemes do not offer any type of service or product to their members while Web sites such as ClickDough and AllAdvantage.com do.

"We like to believe that we are providing a service to people," Yeh said. "We allow people to get a piece of action on the Internet."

That service is that consumers control their information, earn money and know that their privacy is protected.

Both men said protecting members' privacy is their company's primary goal.

Privacy policies posted on the Web sites assure potential members that their personal information will never be shared with a third party, unless the company has obtained the permission of the members.

"We have a very strong privacy policy," Yeh said. "We go beyond what's required by the United States."

Stebben said AllAdvantage.com was the first consumer-to-business Web site to employ a full-time chief privacy officer. "It was so important to us that we went and got one of our country's best experts." Ray Everett-Church travels to Washington and educates members of Congress about privacy issues and where the country should be moving to in terms of protecting individual privacy.

"People should be able to protect their personal data," Stebben said. "We're not just saying that, we're doing it."

Yeh said infomediary Web sites are just part of a growing technological trend. "It's a very big field that's only going to expand."

The traditional supply-and-demand idea is going to shift to a demand chain, Yeh said. Products are going to be built to order based on consumers' wants and needs, he said, which will be determined by tracking their habits on the Internet.

"Web commercialization is going to happen no matter what," Yeh said. "You, as an individual, are going to be able to benefit and reward yourself for your participation."


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com