Internet Eyes, a controversial service that invites web users to provide low-cost monitoring of CCTV cameras in exchange for prizes, will finally launch next week.
Following claims last year that its plans were illegal, the start-up firm now says it has satisfied privacy regulators that it will comply with the Data Protection Act.
At launch 12 premises in towns including Reading, Wokingham and Newton Abbott will provide Internet Eyes with live feeds of their CCTV cameras over the internet, in the hope of catching shoplifters. Costcutter and Spar franchises are part of the three-month beta trial.
At £75 per month, the service is cheaper for retailers than paying a security guard to watch screens at their premises. The firm claims 90 per cent of retail CCTV is not monitored at all.
Logged-in Internet Eyes members will then be able to alert shop owners via an SMS relay when they notice suspicious activity. They can issue only five such alerts per month.
The firm, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, aims to have two pairs of eyes on each camera throughout the working day, and says it is limiting membership numbers accordingly.
Potential members are being asked to pay £1.99 per month, or £12.99 per year, to monitor cameras. Max Patey, Internet Eyes' commercial director, said the charges would help ensure people would "take it seriously" and discourage casual voyeurs, a concern raised by the Information Commissioner's Office.
The regulator has been in contact with Internet Eyes since it first emerged to a barrage of criticism last October. Their discussions have resulted in changes including checks to ensure that all the cameras cover only private rather than any public space, and a requirement that every members' age and identity will be verified, although they will remain anonymous on the site.
The ICO told The Register: "Organisations operating CCTV systems need to make sure that they comply with the Data Protection Act and only use and disclose the images of individuals for limited and proper purposes."
The member age and identity checks will be carried out by 192.com, using credit reference data. Similar checks are performed by gambling sites.
Internet Eyes hopes that the gaming element of its service will offer enough incentive to members to keep watching, and keep paying. They will compete in a crime-busting league, based on whether business owners found the alerts they sent valuable. At the end of each month a prize fund of £1,000 will be shared among the top amateur sentries.
Keen sleuths will also be able to earn back most of their membership fees by racking up their hours on stakeout. More than 60 hours spent watching CCTV feeds each month will recoup £1.50.
Internet Eyes is hosting a launch event next week and is expecting another round of intense scrutiny. Perhaps under-prepared for the reaction last year, this time it has lined up a police endorsement for its service.
Bob Bunney, crime reduction advisor to Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, said: "What I like most about is that potentially there will be more eyes watching existing systems for events that are anti-social or contrary to public safety, which can be brought to the attention of those responsible to respond, which may or may not be the police."
Whether the ICO will be as satisfied by version 2.0 is an open question, however.
"We have provided advice to Internet Eyes on its own data protection compliance. We will be checking to ensure it has followed this and investigate any complaints we receive," it said. ®