"Computational Software": How You Contribute to Online Research Without Your Knowledge

The internet is part of mainstream America, but some companies are taking advantage of that stream of information.   More and more internet providers are taking using their pool of customers to build profits, and it can happen almost without you knowing it.  We all use internet service providers to gain access to the 'net.  Most of us pay for that service, but the competition among FREE online providers is driving them to find more ways to make money...and it's coming from their own customers in a very creative way.  Take JUNO, for instance.  They pioneered free e-mail, then free connections to the Internet.  Today, they're still signing up lots of subscribers, but buried in their 8-page user agreement is the details on "Computational Software".  What's that...?  Well, computational software lets JUNO use a small portion of the online computing power of this subscriber, and this subscriber, and potentially millions of their customers to create a powerful virtual computer in cyberspace.  JUNO then sells the power of the virtual computer to crunch massive amounts of numbers to companies doing research.  The concept was first developed by The SETI Institute's website.  SETI stands for Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  When you log onto their website, they use your computer to help process massive quantities of astonomical data they've gathered.  JUNO has other ideas, though.  Their Public Relations Person, Gary Baker, told me,  "...we're exploring contracts with medical research and pharmaceutical design firms to provide them with the computing power of our subscribers..."  So, if you're using JUNO, how would you know if YOUR computer is being tapped?  Well, you'd have to look at the fine print.  On paragraph 2.5 of the JUNO service agreement is a lengthy explanation of the terms of their computational software.  Baker also told me:   "...we're only using volunteers right now...if we expand the operation to include other users, we MUST notify the subscriber..." and he adds:  "...the subscriber would experience no slow-down of their service connection..."  We didn't check to see which other online services are trying computational services.  Bottom line -- as in all legal contracts -- read the fine print if you don't want surprises.