Internet Eyes, a new website which pays the public to monitor live commercial CCTV footage online is set to be launched in Devon.
The site will pay up to £1,000 to subscribers who regularly report suspicious activity such as shoplifting.
Managing director Tony Morgan said the scheme would reduce crime and help prevent other anti-social behaviour.
However, the site has met criticism from civil liberties campaigners, who say the idea is “distasteful” and encourages private citizens to spy on each other.
The private company intends to stream live footage to subscribers’ home computers from CCTV cameras installed in shops and other businesses.
Morgan said: “The subscribers will have access to four screens at the same time and if they see anything suspicious, they can press the ‘alert’ button. This then sends an instant text and picture message to the shop assistant or manager – who then makes the decision about what action to take.”
He said people have no choice over what CCTV footage they are able to watch for the 20 minutes they have access to, and they would be banned from viewing footage in their local area.
He added: “The cameras are already there – we just link to them so people can watch them. All you see is the tops of people’s heads.
“The whole point of this is that it is a deterrent. People watch Crimewatch and that’s not entertainment. We just want it to help people out.”
He said more than 13,000 people had indicated their interest in the project but he expected more people to join “once they had something to watch”.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has allowed the company to launch its beta site after it agreed to a number of changes, including only allowing subscribers aged 18 and over to access the site.
The ICO also requested the company, which had planned to offer the service for free, make people pay £12.99 or £1.99 to use it so their details could be checked and to prevent any voyeurism and misuse of the system.
Although the CCTV cameras are based in stores across the UK, the rewards are open to anyone from the European Union who is registered with the site.