AltaVista announced on Thursday free Internet access in the US, but customers have to be willing to put up with ads and disclose information that will be passed on to advertisers.
The company is trumpeting the AltaVista MicroPortal part of the AltaVista Free Access service -- a personalised desktop window that links to AltaVista services and displays customisable content such as news, information on sports, stock quotes, weather updates and TV listings.
The service also includes a window within the MicroPortal with rotating banner advertisements and links to ad sites that is always open when the customer is using the service. The ad window takes up less than 5 per cent of the desktop and can be positioned anywhere on the screen, the company said.
Advertising revenues generated from the banner ads are enabling AltaVista to offer the free Internet service, said David Emanuel, director of communications at AltaVista. With the information received from users, the service is able to offer advertisers profiles and information on habits of users that will enable them to better target customers, he said, adding that AltaVista has about 200 advertiser partners.
Customers will be asked to provide their name, address, gender, e-mail and age, as well as optional preferences about interests when they sign up for the service, according to Emanuel. In addition, the system will track the URLs customers visit, he said.
1stUP.com, the company providing the software that creates the ad window, is dealing with the back-end integration with the advertisers and Internet service providers (ISPs), as well as offering technical support, said Charles Katz, the company's chief executive officer and president.
1stUP.com is not handling any of the billing so it won't have access to personal information about specific customers, said Katz. However, the company will be able to provide advertisers with information about which Web sites different customers visit so that advertisers can target specific types of ads at those customers, he said.
AltaVista's FreeAccess service works with any Web browser, and operates on Windows 95 and Windows 98. The service will soon be able to operate on Windows NT and the MacOS, according to AltaVista.
The companies also offer a free Web-based e-mail service through the FreeAccess connection. Splitrock Services and ZipLink are the first ISP partners to be announced for the service, with others to be announced in coming weeks, said Katz.
1stUP.com will make deals with other customers, like content providers, computer manufacturers, retailers and newspapers, Katz said.
Available now, FreeAccess is downloadable for free at http://www.microav.com or through http://www.altavista.com.