If you spend any amount of time on the Internet, you’ll seen a kazillion promotional offerings for free goods… all you have to do is hit the clown in the face with a pie, squash the fly with a swatter, kick the soccer ball into the goal, and then pimp out your personal information and the personal information of seven of your closest friends. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? For some people, these free items are too good to pass up, no matter what the ultimate cost. However, as this News.com article explains, companies that violate privacy policies by selling users’ personal information will get a big slap on the hand – and a healthy fine to boot: “‘Free iPod’ firm hit with privacy-breach suit.”  

According to the article, “In a civil complaint released Thursday, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Washington D.C.-based Gratis Internet of deceptive business practices… the state claims that Gratis violated its own privacy policies by collecting and selling personal information on more than 7 million users, over a period of three and a half years. The activity allegedly occurred through six Gratis-owned sites: FreeiPods.com and FreeCondoms.com (which it continues to operate), and similar sites offering free DVDs, CDs and video games that were discontinued earlier this year.”

So, what’s the catch? “In order to secure the ‘free’ goods, visitors must sign up for at least one promotion offered by Gratis’ third-party business partners, such as Blockbuster Video, BMG Music Service and CitiBank. They earn freebies by persuading a requisite number of friends to register as well. Gratis receives payments from its partners ranging from $20 to $70 for each participating customer.” 

I’ve run across these deals before, and I always terminate the transaction right there. I’d rather purchase an iPod than have to pay dearly for it later. And if you’re looking for free condoms, check your local health department.