m@ on Tue, 9 Feb 1999 00:21:01 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Free-PC.com

7:28 a.m.  8.Feb.99.PST
                        At what price privacy?

                        A California company began testing that
                        question on Monday, taking names -- and a
                        whole lot more personal information -- from
                        people eager to get a Compaq computer and
                        Internet access for free.

                        Free-PC.com says that Presario PCs will go to
                        the first 10,000 people to hand over their
                        consumer dossier, including age, income, family
                        status, hobbies, and buying habits.

                        Once they get their computers and turn them
                        on, recipients will have to endure
                        advertisements that will appear whether or not
                        they're online. The ads will be stored on the
                        hard drive that ships with the PC, and displayed
                        along the side of the screen.

                        The price for this "free" PC doesn't end there.
                        The company will monitor how the computer is
                        used, tracking which of its ads are clicked on as
                        well as where users go -- and what they buy --
                        on the Web.

                        Free-PC.com, based in Pasadena, is the
                        brainchild of Bill Gross and his Net investment
                        firm Idealab. The company said it has US$10
                        million in backing from Barry Diller's USA
                        Networks, parent of Ticketmaster
                        Online-CitySearch, Internet Shopping
                        Network/First Auction, and Home Shopping

                        Gross says the giveaway is a viable business
                        strategy because well-defined consumers are
                        now more valuable than PCs, which long ago
                        crashed through the US$1,000 floor and are now
                        available for as little as $500.

                        "Free-PC is the breakthrough first product to
                        start an inevitable trend," Gross said in a press
                        release. "Merchants will pay to reach you, so
                        they essentially will subsidize the cost of the PC,
                        indirectly. We believe in the long term this
                        model will provide cost savings to a full range of
                        PC offerings through both retail and direct

                        Free-PC said Cybergold will provide the
                        advertising for its desktop, and listed Disney,
                        ESPN, credit-card issuer MBNA, Internet car
                        retailer autobytel.com, Earthlink, and America
                        Online as clients.

                        While those advertisers will get a wealth of
                        consumer information, they won't get the names
                        attached to that information, Free-PC executives

                        "All information will be held in strict confidence
                        by Free-PC," CEO Don LaVigne said in a
                        statement. "No personal information will ever be
                        revealed to advertisers, and the company
                        promises to never sell or give away consumer
                        data to any third party."

                        The company said the PCs will be shipped in the
                        "second quarter of 1999." They will come with a
                        333-megahertz processor, a 4-gig hard drive, 32
                        megs of RAM, a 56.6K modem, and a 14-inch
                        monitor, and will be loaded with Windows 98 and
                        assorted software. Net access will be provided
                        by NetZero.

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