First USA is hoping to gain a million credit card customers in a joint promotion with a start-up Internet company, FreeMac.com.
FreeMac is offering free iMac computers from Apple Computer Inc. to people who qualify for a First USA card.
In September, the Bank One Corp. card unit and FreeMac.com plan to introduce a cobranded credit card aimed at people who don't own a computer. They must be willing to divulge personal information about themselves for marketing purposes in exchange for a computer.
Buying information with giveaways is a growing phenomenon on the Internet.
About 25 other companies are hawking computers at minimal cost. "There are a lot of people who want to jump into this space," said Larry Chiang, who started his own Internet marketing company, Campus Backbone, in May.
Typically these marketing companies ask people to sign a three-year contract that locks them into an Internet service for which they are billed monthly. The people typically supply demographic details about themselves and agree to view promotional e-mail messages and other advertisements.
Jonathan Strum, founder and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based FreeMac, said, "We are giving away a personal computer with a $1,200 value. But if I want to get an iMac for free I need to perform. I need to do something."
Companies' ability to use and share personal information, meanwhile, has become a hot issue in Washington. Mr. Chiang, whose Oak Brook, Ill., firm offers to pay college students for reading advertisements on the Internet, said, "You have very little privacy if you order a PC through one of these programs. They can track where you go on the Internet."
Even if a company does not share the personal information it gathers and protects the anonymity of the customer, privacy advocate Evan Hendricks said, the information may still be vulnerable to abuse.
"In the atmosphere of inadequate privacy laws, if the information is subpoenaed by courts in the case of a divorce, for example, it won't be anonymous," said Mr. Hendricks, who is the editor of Privacy Times, a Washington newsletter.
He said another risk arises if the original company is acquired and the new company does not agree to its privacy policies.
FreeMac.com was started last week and captured considerable attention through advertising and because of its connection with First USA. Other companies offering computers have said they want to sign deals with credit card issuers, but few, if any, have done so yet.
"This offer is going to bring a lot of people into" the First USA fold, said company spokesman Jeff Unkle.
First USA has been the most aggressive card marketer on the Internet. It said it has added 1.3 million card customers through that channel.
FreeMac said it will strive for one million customers when it begins accepting applications in September. Customers are to pay $19.95 monthly for an Internet service offered by Earthlink.
FreeMac has another partnership with Cybercash Inc., which will provide its digital wallet for on-line shopping.
Mr. Strum said FreeMac will not use consumers' true identities when it passes information to marketers. Its application form, separate from the credit card application, asks questions about lifestyle, income, and number of people in a family, among other things.
"It becomes a question of what that iMac is worth to you," Mr. Strum said.