With all of the talk about Internet malefactors, phishing and identity theft, users are, quite sensibly, becoming more reluctant to provide personal information online. At the same time, some online services are becoming even more demanding of their users, refusing to supply information until they

receive some in return, even if you’re paying for their wares.

For example, I subscribe to Rogers highspeed Internet service, and have since day one. It has been chugging along nicely for some time. Then Rogers decided to partner with Yahoo.

Suddenly, last week when I clicked on the Web mail link, I got bounced to a registration page. Yahoo, it seems, wants me to give it personal information before it lets me use the web mail service I’m paying for.

The marketing blurb on the page tells me of all of the wonderful things that are in store for me on the new and improved Rogers Yahoo, once I register. (I can program my own Internet radio station. I can view 8000 music videos. There’s a spam blocking service. Oh, joy.) It provides links to the privacy policies for Rogers and Yahoo – separate privacy policies, both of which I now have to accept.

The Rogers policy I know, and it hasn’t bitten me yet. Yahoo’s on the other hand, says it will use the personal information I give it to serve ads, among other things. It will share it with partners. So does Rogers, to some extent, but I don’t get spam on Rogers, even without blocking. I do on Yahoo. Go figure. It is the same policy handed to users of the free service, whose freight is being mainly paid by advertisers.

So, why do they think that paying customers should put up with the same nonsense?

Call me crabby, but I don’t think that my birth date or postal code are any of Yahoo’s blinkin’ business. It certainly does not need that information to give me my e-mail over the Web.

They do not need them to show me a home page – and I don’t particularly want some purveyor of Web content to decide what’s “”age-appropriate”” for me. I can figure it out for myself, and properly thought-out parental controls will protect children. And I really don’t want my personal information and surfing habits shared with advertisers (whose privacy policies we never see) who will bombard me with even more rubbish than I see already.

The pre-registration FAQ deals with some upgrade issues, but not the critical one: why are subscribers being forced to accept the same intrusions into their privacy as the users who essentially exchange their information for free access?

I find it quite interesting that there’s no feedback mechanism available until after you’ve registered (I assume it’s just an oversight, but it’s annoying). I sent a message to the old Rogers support address, and didn’t get a bounce, but haven’t had an answer either.

On the plus side, pop3 mail is still flowing normally, so I’m not entirely cut off from my Rogers account, and Yahoo isn’t forcing users to reconfigure browsers.

That was kindly done (and has no doubt spared them a zillion or so support calls); they probably learned from the fiasco with Excite a few years ago.

But the fact still remains – if Yahoo’s privacy policy offends Rogers users and they refuse to register with this third party, they will have to sacrifice core portions of their Rogers service. And when they’re paying Rogers for that service, that’s wrong.

Lynn Greiner is a freelancer and can be reached via email at lynng@ca.inter.net

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