Virgin Entertainment plans to distribute internet appliances free of charge to 10,000 US customers who are willing to part with personal data.
The California-based unit of Richard Branson's Virgin Group said it may also distribute 30,000 more appliances in an attempt to acquire new users, create a better online brand identity and form a sales channel if the launch is successful.
The Webplayer device, which is free for the first year and costs $50 subsequently, can be used to surf the internet using Virgin's portal. The silver box comes with a flat-panel screen, 56K modem and wireless keyboard and the top row of keys consist of icons, which connect users to website providers that have paid for preferential placement.
The scheme was devised by the Internet Appliance Network, a New York-based company that provides business customers with internet appliances that can be given away at low or no cost. Virgin declined to disclose how much it is spending on the Webplayers.
After accepting the devices, customers will receive email and news and be able to shop from 35 portal advertisers. They must also agree to receive targeted banner advertising and email messages from Virgin and other marketers.
To join the scheme, users go to the Virginconnectme.com website, where they fill out an application form, which includes questions such as their name, address, what kind of car they drive and whether they own or rent an home.
Virgin Entertainment pledges not to give or sell Virginconnect consumer personal information to third parties or to its commerce partners, however, and hopes to tailor its products and promotions based on shopping patterns and demographic data.
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