Lavasoft News, September '06

AOL Takes Another Blow
Coming off invasion of privacy charges over their disclosure of the search data of over half a million of their users, AOL has been hit with fresh accusations as to how they handle Internet ethics. This time, AOL has been picked up by a StopBadware.org report over qualities consistent with badware in their free client software.

StopBadware.org is an educational, non-profit "neighborhood watch" organization designed to inform consumers about downloadable applications; they strive to provide information on badware and "the bad actors who spread it." The group is run by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute, with Consumer Reports WebWatch serving as a special advisor.

The group's latest in-depth report places an open inquiry status on AOL's free version of AOL 9.0, deeming it to have "badware behavior." The report highlights the fact that AOL software has been installed with applications that, without consumer consent, alter the user's web browser and desktop.

Other specific badware behavior charges include interfering with computer use (by forcing users to take action), making changes to other software without disclosure (by adding to Internet Explorer "favorites"), and deceptive installation (by updating software automatically).

While AOL has apologized for the last breach of information, and has stated they are reviewing the latest incriminating report in order to rectify the situation, the Internet giant has its own view on both incidents.

In a recent New York Times article, AOL spokesperson, Andrew Weinstein, stated that his company believes that the so-called badware problems are "nonsubstantive" and "unmalicious."

Because AOL's response to the situation has been to take steps to address the noted problems, Stopbadware.org has refrained from giving an official badware rating to AOL 9.0.

Yet, for the millions of AOL users worldwide, drawing in more than 100 million monthly online users in the United States alone, who rely on AOL to bring them internet services, a level of trust has surely been violated.

The StopBadware.org web site recommends, "... that users do not install the version of AOL software that we tested, unless the user is comfortable with the level of risk we identify or until the application is updated consistent with the recommendations in this report."

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