Juno ... When Contracts are Broken, Rewritten and You Loose Control of Your Computer

By Thom LaCosta
© 2001

Juno Makes Unauthorized Changes to User Account

     February 27, 2001 - I just went into my account profile at Juno to confirm that I still had 6 months of prepaid service time.(See background below).

    Lo and behold, Yesterday "someone" changed my membership from Premium pre-paid to the month to month service...which Juno tells me will cost $29.95 a month.

    If you are a paid member of Juno, I STRONGLY suggest that you check your plan membership, amount and next billing date at http://account.juno.com

    I've had it....I am filing in small claims court, and asking that Juno supply all records and correspondence reference my account.

    I am also attempting to find an attorney that may be interested in a class action suit.

    Watch your backs folks...Juno is NOT to be trusted.

     Many Juno users have reported that they have received email from the provider telling them that because of their usage, their rates are going up.

     Never mind that some of the plans involved prepayment for up to a year of UNLIMITED service, or some plans were based on a 1 year commitment with monthly payments...Juno gives these users the following reason for a rate increase:

     "we have found that some make such heavy use of the service that they impose a disproportionate burden on our technical, human, and financial resources."

     Plans for users that Juno doesn't consider heavy users range from $35.40 a year(pre-paid) to $9.95 per month for automatic billing to your credit card.

     Calls to Customer Support at Juno (1 (888) 839-5866) bring mixed results. On my first call, I was told, and given a confirmation number, that my pre-paid account would be good for the remaining six months of the contract. The Customer Service folks refused to send an email confirming their statement. When I emailed them to confirm the conversation, I received a reply that stated:

     "Starting with your next billing date on or after March 1, 2001, Juno will begin to bill you at the new price of $29.95 per month. Your remaining pre-paid amount towards your Juno Web subscription would be adjusted against the first payment due on your next billing date, which falls after March 1, 2001. You will be charged at $29.95 per month thereafter.

     However, if you would prefer to cancel your subscription rather than continue as a subscriber at the new price, you may do so by replying to the email notification sent to you and typing the word "Cancel" in the subject line of your reply."

     Noticing no mention of the balance of my pre-payment, I emailed Juno asking about my money. The response, another automated message stated that:

     "For members who are paying annually/semi-annually for their premium service:

     Your remaining pre-paid amount towards your Juno Web subscription would be adjusted against the first payment due on your next billing date, which falls after March 1, 2001. You will be charged at $29.95 per month thereafter."

     So, what's the take on Juno? They apparently don't value the good will of existing customers, they may understand the letter of Breach of Contract (they hold the position that they can change the rules at will), but certainly don't understand the spirit of contracts, and, even more frightening, they have provisions in their terms of service http://help.juno.com/privacy/agreement.html that not only can force Juno users to not power down their computers, but also have Juno, OR its designates, actually cause programs to run on user computers that have nothing to do with the service!

Why Does Juno Need 24 Access to Your Computer?

     If you're wondering why Juno needs 24 hour access to your computer, and your phone line, the article below should be a real eye-opener.

Juno's money-making scheme has watchdogs all shook up

     By Lisa M. Bowman, ZDNet News

     The supercomputer project has both consumer advocates worried that subscribers' computers will be vulnerable to all kinds of mischief--including snooping by third parties.

     Juno Online Service's jump into the supercomputing business has alarmed consumer and privacy advocates, who fear the move could open subscribers' computers to vulnerabilities--including snooping by third parties such as the government.

     Juno quietly posted a new agreement for subscribers of its free Internet service. Those customers must allow the downloading of software that would perform computational tasks unrelated to Internet connection. They must also agree to leave their computers on all the time if asked. The software would replace the screensaver, and people would not be able to uninstall or tamper with it. Furthermore, under the terms of the agreement, Juno 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 particularly hard during the dot-com downturn, mainly because it relies heavily on advertising dollars. 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."

     Baker said he's confident that most of the company's existing subscribers will agree to the terms. After all, he said, Juno already requires members to agree to, among other things, a permanent display screen that shows ads.

     "They're already making some sacrifices in exchange for some free Internet access," Baker said.

     The company plans to announce more details of the plan, and who qualifies, in the coming months.

     "This is a tremendous resource that is being wasted by people when they leave their computers off," he said.

     The idea of accessing consumer machines for distributed computing projects isn't new. For example, 18 million people have donated their dormant computing power to the SETI Institute, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Other community-based programs have let people give unused computer time to scientists researching diseases such as AIDS. And United Devices lets people give their processing power to commercial projects and causes such as cancer research in exchange for cash and prizes.

     Still, Richard Smith, chief technology officer of the Privacy Foundation, is concerned that 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.

     What's more, Smith said, companies who potentially could sign up for the extra processing power might not want their intellectual property floating freely on random customers' computers. Juno said it was still researching security issues. Whatever the case, Juno's plan is sure to be a test of how much consumers are willing to give up in exchange for free service.

     Smith said that when he first came across the agreement it was troublesome. "I just read it over and said, 'Oh my God. Who would agree to this?'"

     Some people took to the message boards to dissect the new policy. One person on DejaNews said: "It smacks of George Orwell's 1984. I'll give up my Internet before I accept this sort of invasive intrusion into my privacy."

     Others wondered whether it was hoax or asked if someone could explain what the terms were really saying. And still others took Juno's side, pointing out that people shouldn't expect something for nothing. "There's no such thing as a free lunch," wrote one.

     At this writing, Juno has yet to answer whether or not a user of a premium service who elects to cancel that service in lieu of paying the outrageous rates, will retain his or her free email address.

     If you're a Juno customer, you've been forewarned...you may not get what you expect, and if you're not carefull, you'll be paying $29.95 for a service that could tie up your computer and your telephone line...doesn't sound like a good bargain, does it?

Thom LaCosta is Webmaster at BaltimoreMd.com -- He recently disposed of a large number of notes on various pieces of paper -- his trash collectors don't like him -- you can email him at comments@baltimoremd.com

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