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New Juno plan worries privacy groups


WASHINGTON -- Juno quietly posted a new agreement for subscribers of its free Internet service that has alarmed consumer and privacy advocates, ZDNet News reported.

In an effort to replace dwindling advertising revenue during the dot-com downturn, Juno now says customers must allow a software download that would perform computational tasks unrelated to the Internet connection. They must also agree to leave their computers on at all times if asked. The software would replace the screensaver, and people would not be able to uninstall or tamper with it, the news service reports.

Juno also would have the right to "initiate a telephone connection from your computer to Juno's central computers."

The market for free Internet service providers has been hit hard of late, mainly because it relies heavily on advertising dollars from equally hard-hit Internet ventures. To make more money, Juno, which gets about one-third of its revenue from advertising, is hoping to sell unused processing power on member computers to third parties, who can string them together in a virtual daisy chain to form a supercomputer.

However, defenders of privacy and consumer rights worry the new requirements amount to an unprecedented exchange of personal property and data to get something for free. Worse, they say, Juno customers might not understand what kind of relationship they're getting themselves into when they click on the agreement. They're also criticizing the company for slipping the wording into the agreement Jan. 18 and then not going public with the plan until Feb. 1.

Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology, worries the new rules will make it easier for government investigators to violate constitutional provisions against unreasonable search and seizure. For example, he said, weak wiretapping laws could allow federal investigators to go through Juno to gain access to customers' computers without their knowledge via the software that's installed on their machines.

"Individuals are in some ways signing over their Fourth Amendment rights by opening up their computers," Schwartz said. "It's too bad that to protect people's privacy, they have to pay extra."

Juno spokesman Gary Baker downplayed such concerns and said the new pact wouldn't actually require subscribers to keep their computers on all the time -- only for a few prescribed hours. He also said paid subscribers, which make up about 20 percent of Juno's 4 million customers, would be exempt from the rules. In addition, he said the computers wouldn't be connected to the Internet constantly because most of the computations would take place offline, synching up to the system only when a customer connects to the Internet.

However, people who sign onto the service must agree to a policy that "may require you to leave your computer turned on at all times."

Still, Richard Smith, chief technology officer of the Privacy Foundation, is concerned the software Juno installs on customers' computers might make their machines less reliable, causing them to slow or crash. Juno said it is designing the software so that it doesn't interfere with home machines.

. . . watch for more stories coming soon  


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