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Morpheus tracks user surfing habits

StreamCast Networks has begun installing a Web browser add-on that sends some Morpheus users on an invisible Web detour to track which sites they visit
Written by John Borland, Contributor

StreamCast Networks, distributor of the popular Morpheus software, is quietly counting the number of times its file swappers visit high-profile shopping sites.

The company on Tuesday said it has begun installing a Web browser add-on that sends some Morpheus users on an invisible Web detour aimed at capturing data about file swappers' surfing habits.

Thus, when a file swapper visits a site such as Radioshack.com, eBay.com or a handful of others, their computer visits a separate site behind the scenes before loading the final destination site. Those separate servers, run by marketing companies including Be Free, count how many times Morpheus users stop by.

According to StreamCast chief executive Steve Griffin, no personal information is being collected.

"Before I do a partnership with anyone I make sure they won't collect any personal information," Griffin said, adding that the marketing program would be fully released next month. "We're just trying to test and make sure the technology is working."

StreamCast has tried to distinguish itself from other file-swapping services by saying it is wholly free of "spyware," third-party software applications that track people's movements online. Many other applications, including rival Kazaa, come bundled with several advertising programs that pop up ads as people surf online.

Morpheus has been the centre of considerable attention over the last few weeks, after an apparent billing dispute with the Dutch company providing its peer-to-per technology resulted in millions of people being thrown off the popular file-trading network.

StreamCast responded by rushing out a "Preview Edition " of a new version of its software, based on the open-source Gnutella file-swapping technology. That software has been one of the most quickly distributed programs ever, with close to 30 million copies downloaded since 1 March, according to software aggregation site Download.com, a division of ZDNet publisher CNET Networks.

The new Morpheus marketing program is based on a technology called browser helper objects (BHO), which attach themselves to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. These are common -- Yahoo! and RealNetworks use them, along with smaller companies that have been criticized for latching on to the browser to deliver ads. Several software programs have been written to search a computer for BHOs and disable them.

StreamCast is working with a marketing company called Wurld Media. When the full marketing program launches in April, Griffin said the affiliate program that sends Morpheus users to participating shopping sites will provide them with some reward in return. He declined to give any further details, however.

Affiliate relationships, such as those pursued by Amazon.com and others, often pay Web sites for referring traffic in their direction. By invisibly inserting the redirect into Web surfers' browsers, StreamCast can make it look like it is referring traffic to shopping Web sites without the shopper ever being aware that the Morpheus technology was involved.

Griffin said the technology is simply taking the old affiliate referral program to a new level. Most of the referrals will happen inside the Morpheus application itself after the new version is launched with a commerce section, he said.

The new Morpheus technology was first reported by Newsbytes.

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