Web surfers sign up to be spied upon

Surfers sign up to be spied upon--and sell their clickstreams.

By Jennifer Alsever, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- A new kind of electronic voyeurism debuts this month: software that lets users watch one another surf the Web from afar, with their permission. Attentron, a free desktop widget developed by AttentionTV, a startup in Mill Valley, Calif., shows users a list of pages that their friends are currently visiting or have visited since they signed up--the virtual equivalent of reading over your friends' shoulders.

"It turns passive behavior into entertainment," says AttentionTV founder Seth Goldstein.

But Goldstein knows that advertisers will get the most out of this show. Once Attentron has a significant number of users, he says, marketers can offer them cash or other incentives for their Web histories. Attentron can add value by packaging "channels" of like-minded users, such as physicians or software engineers.

For now, marketers are watching and waiting.

"My guess is Attentron will have fairly narrow reach," says Bill Gossman, CEO of Revenue Science, an online behavioral-targeting firm. But Fred Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures in New York and a longtime adviser of Goldstein's, thinks Attentron could spark entirely new business models for marketing firms.

"People are going to see the value in sharing their attention," he says.

$1.5 billion: Amount marketers spent last year trying to track consumers' online behavior. Top of page

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