Pay to surf
Pay to surf (PTS) is a business model that became popular in the late 1990s, prior to the dot-com crash. Essentially, a company uses income from advertising placed on members' screens to pay them for time spent surfing.
A PTS company would provide a small program, commonly called a "viewbar", to be installed on a member's computer. Advertisers' banner ads were then displayed while the member was browsing the web. Since the viewbar tracked websites that the user visited, the PTS company was able to deliver targeted ads for their advertisers. Advertisers paid the company a small amount (typically US$0.50) for every hour of a member's surfing.
Members were usually limited on the amount of time per month for which they would be paid to surf (typically 20 hours). However, PTS companies also paid their members for each new user referred to the company (typically US$0.05 - US$0.10 per recruit). Thus, it was profitable for a member to garner as many referrals as possible, encouraging some users to recruit members using spam, though officially forbidden by the user's agreement. Minors, many of whom flocked to these business models as an easy source of income, were required to obtain consent from a parent or legal guardian.
The first and most well-known PTS company was AllAdvantage. It launched in March 1999 and grew to 13 million members in little over a year with the multi-level marketing system of recruiting new members. The scheme capitalized on the notion that anyone could make money on the internet without much effort.
AllAdvantage’s success attracted many imitators. At its peak, there were several dozen pay-to-surf companies. AllAdvantage had US$175 million in venture capital; its imitators did not and thus their members were never more than a small fraction of AllAdvantage's.
After 18 months, even AllAdvantage ceased operations. At that point, AllAdvantage had paid out over US$160 million to its members. Many members of smaller PTS companies were never paid when the companies shut down.
As with many Internet business models, PTS companies attracted people trying to defraud the company out of money. First, as noted above, the companies had to deal with spammers, often having to terminate member accounts. Finally, utilities started appearing which allowed users to simulate surfing activity. Some users even created mechanical mouse-moving devices which ran around their desks, i.e. "JiggyMouse". These programs and devices allowed users to get paid simply for leaving their machines on. This began an arms race between the PTS companies who built fraud-prevention software and fraud program developers, with each releasing increasingly sophisticated versions of their software.
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