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Orange, a UK ISP and mobile phone company, is reportedly close to signing a deal with an ad-supported mobile virtual network called Blyk that would offer certain Orange customers credits on their service in exchange for receiving text-based ads on their mobile phones. According to an article in New Media Age, Orange has been in talks with Blyk for months to offer subscribers aged 16-24 credits of £15 ($25) if they receive ads on their phones. The partnership looks similar to an effort by German carrier E-Plus to offer lower-cost mobile phone service to customers in exchange for ads.
Customers are asked to detail certain personal information when they sign up for the Blyk service, which is then shared with advertisers that use it to deliver targeted ads. I have little doubt that people in the desired age range would give up a bit of their privacy in exchange for cheaper phone service, and Orange could possibly see profits from advertising. Like, many ISPs and carriers, Orange has been looking at ways to offer advertising. It may also use this as a way to attract new customers who would graduate to an ad-free version of its service, although depending on how many ads subscribers viewed and how well the campaigns worked, perhaps selling eyeballs would be more valuable than selling phone service. My guess is that so far it isn’t. Blyk originally resold mobile service with the goal of delivering ads to its customers, but later backed off of that model, possibly because they couldn’t make enough money selling ads.
However, as mobile operators and ISPs try to mine the rich amount of customer data they have access to without alienating their subscribers, an opt-in program in which young adults sell their attention for credits on mobile phone service looks like something consumers would accept. Although there’s a certain irony in targeting ads at a group that’s too cheap to spring for ad-free cell-phone service, I wonder how long it will take to cross the pond into the U.S.