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How to make money by watching Internet content: there is an application that pays for what you already do every day

Simply surfing the web helps companies like Google and Facebook earn billions and billions of dollars a year in ad revenue because they use information from your web browsing to target ads, reports with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

For example, if you're browsing online fashion stores to potentially buy a new pair of jeans, you'll very soon see ads for denim pants appearing elsewhere on your computer screen. We've all seen it happen.

The level of tracking us on the Internet in this way is somewhat unnerving. According to one recent study, the average European gets data on their internet usage 376 times a day. For US surfers, this nearly doubles to 747.

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What if you could not only have more control over the amount of your data, but also make money from it?

This is the promise of a Canadian tech firm Surf, which launched a browser extension of the same name last year. It rewards people for surfing the internet.

Still in beta or limited release in the US and Canada, it works bypassing services like Google and selling your data directly to retail brands instead. In return, Surf gives you points that you can earn and then redeem for store gift cards and discounts.

Companies currently registered include Foot Locker, The Body Shop, Crocs and Dyson.

Surf notes that all data is anonymous - your email addresses and phone numbers are not shared, and you do not need to provide your name when registering. However, it asks for your age, gender, and approximate address, but this is optional.

The idea is that brands can use the data Surf provides, for example, to find out which websites are most popular among men aged 18 to 24 in Los Angeles. You can then target your ads accordingly.

Surf hasn't released details on how much people can earn, but so far it says it has allowed users to collectively earn over $1,2 million.

People can also use Surf to restrict the data they share, such as blocking information about certain websites they visit.

One of Surf's users is Amina Al Noor, a student at York University in Toronto, Canada, who says she believes the extension has given her back "control" of her online data.

“You can choose what you want to give to Surf,” Amina said. “Sometimes I forget that I’m connected to it, and after a week I check, and my scores continue to grow.”

“All technology companies collect our information, but the point is to improve our experience of using technology,” she said.

Surf co-founder and CEO Swish Goswami says the firm wants to give "bonuses to frequent internet surfers."

He explained: “From day one, we have made it clear to users what we share and what we don’t share, and we let them control their data. I think if you're honest with people and let them know that you're sharing data with brands and you're doing it anonymously, meaning they can't harass users because we don't have their first or last name, then it's more convenient for people to say " yes” and share more information with us.”

Surf is part of a growing movement that some commentators have called "responsible tech", part of which is giving people more control over their data.

Another tech firm in the field is Canadian startup Waverly, which allows people to compose their own news feeds rather than relying on the Google News and Apple News tracker and ad-based algorithms.

With Waverly, you fill in topics that interest you, and its AI software finds articles it thinks you'd like to read. The Montreal-based firm is the brainchild of founder Philippe Beaudoin, who was previously a Google engineer. App users can regularly change their preferences and submit feedback on which articles are recommended to them.

Beaudoin says users should put in some effort as they have to tell the app what they're interested in, but in return they're freed from the "ad trap".

“The tech in charge should be empowering users, but shouldn't be shy about asking them to do some work on their behalf,” the founder explained.

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The American firm Abine, owned by Rob Shavell, creates two applications that allow the user to increase privacy: Blur and Delete Me. The former ensures that your passwords and payment details cannot be tracked, while the latter removes your personal information from search engines.

Shavell says he believes surfing the internet should come with "privacy by design."

Carissa Veliz, associate professor at Oxford University's Institute for Artificial Intelligence Ethics, says tech companies should be "incentivized to develop business models that don't depend on the use of personal data."

“It is alarming that most of the algorithms that run our lives are produced by private companies without any oversight or guidance to make sure these algorithms support our public goods and values,” she stressed.

“I don’t think transparency is a panacea or even half the solution, but officials should have access to algorithms,” Veliz said.

Google points to its new Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to introduce new, more private advertising solutions.

A Google spokesperson says: “That's why we're partnering with regulators and the web community to create technology through the Privacy Sandbox that will protect people's online privacy by helping keep online content and services free for everyone. Later this year, we will launch My Ad Center, which will expand our privacy controls to give people more direct control over the information used to serve ads to them."

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Educational program конфиденциальность additional income surfing the internet
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