November 8, 2000 5:30 PM PST

Virgin-backed free computer recalled

After just six months, a partnership backed by Virgin Entertainment Group is taking back computer equipment and Internet services it gave for free to 10,000 customers in exchange for the right to track their online activities.

In an email distributed Wednesday, Internet Appliance Network, Virgin's partner in the Virgin Connect giveaway, said that it has gotten out of the business of providing Internet appliances and services.

Los Angeles-based Virgin offered $25 gift certificates to participating customers for the trouble of returning the sleek Virgin Connect Webplayers. The program will end Nov. 15, and although there is no deadline to return the player, it cannot be used with any other Internet service provider, the company's Web site says.

"Internet Appliance Network will terminate your charter membership and shut down the service as of midnight 11/15," said the email sent to one customer. "We will send you a letter within the next seven to 10 business days that includes instructions for returning your Webplayer and a prepaid shipping label."

Internet Appliance representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Webplayers allow people to surf the Net and send email but can't be used for tasks such as word processing and creating spreadsheets. The sleek machine with a flat-panel screen, wireless keyboard and 56K modem connected customers to Web sites that were part of Virgin Connect's program.

The program was set up to collect consumer information for targeted advertisements. Virgin Connect asked each applicant to provide a name, address and car model and to answer several questions--for example, whether the applicant rents or owns a home and what kind of magazines that person reads.

The information will be deleted from Internet Appliance's database except for name and contact information, which will be kept for record-keeping purposes, the company said in a statement.


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