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AT&T’s New Scheme To Award Free Data For Watching Ads [Updated with Statement from AT&T]

June 11, 2015 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

VentureBeat is reporting that starting June 16th, AT&T will offer a unique new plan to its postpaid subscribers, whereby users will be given data credits if they were to click on ads, download new sponsored apps, fill out surveys, or buy items from vendors and advertisers who chose to participate in the program. The program has been named ‘Data Perks’ and will initially be available exclusively to the company’s 50 million Mobile Share Value customers. AT&T will be introducing the scheme in association with a company called Aquto, which is based out of Boston, MA and describes itself as a mobile advertising and marketing startup. The company reportedly raised $8 million in 2012, and is backed by Matrix Partners and North Bridge.

Aquto has been working with mobile networks like Vodafone in Portugal and major advertisement networks worldwide with a view to establishing this business model, which has been described previously in some quarters as the equivalent of a “frequent flyer program for mobile data users”. At the Rutberg Conference held earlier this month in San Francisco, the CEO of AT&T mobile, Mr. Ralph de la Vega had apparently spoken about rolling out the new program to its users at some stage in the future. AT&T and Aquto reportedly already have around 30 brands participating in the new program. They include Hotel Tonight, Rosetta Stone and Fandango among others.

The scheme however, has already generated controversy not the least because plans are afoot to treat data differentially for potential advertisers from the field of rich media. If the proposal does go through, a movie studio could invite users to view its trailer on their mobile data connection, without the streaming video counting against the user’s data cap. On top of that, the user gets some extra data, as promised in the first place for clicking on the ad and watching the trailer. Critics of the scheme fear such a scenario will be a blatant violation of net-neutrality norms, and may eventually push out newer, smaller players from the content industry and indeed the internet as a whole. Proponents of the new venture including the CEO of Aquto Ms. Susie Kim Riley however, sounded dismissive of such ideas and suggested there’s no way this inch will be stretched to a mile. Ms. Riley, whist admitting “something like this could be abused”, said she doesn’t see “the Googles and the Facebooks of the world shelling out millions of dollars to push their content over networks for free”.

Update: AT&T has reached out to us to provide a statement about this program, “We do not have any agreement to announce and have made no announcement about a new data program.”