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"This was not an accident. It was a crime. It was a homicide." -- Prosecutor Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, charging the maintenance company in the 1996 ValuJet crash with murderEdited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Privacy Is in the Eye of the Surfer

Privacy advocates have misgivings about Net freebie deals where users trade personal data, often about buying habits, for the likes of E-mail accounts or even PCs.

It seems users, however, don't mind the trade-off as long as they are told how their data will be used. Only 12% of 457 Net users surveyed by the nonprofit research group Privacy & American Business--funded in part by banks and the credit industry--said that such programs violate their privacy. And 86% said participating in them is O.K. if companies disclose how their info will be used. What's more, 90% don't mind if personal data is used in statistical studies, and 59% might let their E-mail address be given to an online retailer.

Outspoken privacy defenders "don't have a ghost of an understanding of how a great number of Americans feel about" trading personal data, says survey director Alan Westin, a professor emeritus of law at Columbia. For most users, says Westin, the attitude is: "Tell me what you want. Tell me what you're going to do with it, and I'll decide." Web sites that clearly post their privacy policies needn't worry, he says.By Dennis Berman; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

TABLE

An Acceptable Trade-Off

Is accepting free products in return for personal information a violation of your privacy? YES 12%Is this trade-off acceptable if you are told how the information will be used? YES 86%

DATA: PRIVACY & AMERICANReturn to top

Driving Away the No-Credit Blues

The Reverend Jesse Jackson has helped persuade some financial heavyweights to buy $37 million in auto loans made to inner-city consumers with bad credit ratings. BUSINESS WEEK has learned that a group including Bank of America, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs has agreed to purchase the auto receivables collected by Detroit's Mel Farr Auto Group, a network of Midwest dealerships that is the largest black-owned company in the U.S. The deal is expected to close the week of July 19.

The program will initially serve customers in Detroit, Dayton, and Cincinnati. The high-risk buyers have to make weekly payments. And if they don't pay? Each car will have an innovative gizmo, made by Payment Protection Systems of San Diego, dubbed the "on-time device." It lights up three days before payment is due. If payment is not received by 7 p.m. each Friday, customers won't get a special code needed to start their cars. Says Farr: "I want my money."

Farr said that Jackson's influence was key to winning over conservative bankers and financiers who first balked at the scheme. "Access to capital, that's what this is all about," says Jackson.By Roger O. Crockett; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top


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