RealTime IT News

Class Action Suits Piling Up Against AOL

New York state residents are joining the growing list of litigants filing class action law suits against America Online Inc.

The class-action suit was filed Friday in the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. The suit claims that America Online (AOL) knowingly released its 5.0 software upgrade that changed users' TCP/IP settings without warning.

The New York suit further alleges that AOL's 5.0 software installation rendered several personal computers inoperable and prohibited users from connecting to the Internet through an independent Internet service provider.

Seattle-based attorney Steve Berman, Hagens Berman managing partner, filed the New York suit under the Consumer Protection Act. The New York class-action filing comes on the heels of similar lawsuits filed on behalf of AOL users in Arizona, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Berman said consumers are demanding satisfaction from AOL and soon the filings may reach a national scale.

"After we filed our initial complaint in Washington, we immediately began receiving hundreds of calls and e-mails from disgruntled AOL users from all across the country asking how they could join the Washington State suit," Berman said. "We've filed complaints in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and today, New York, but could well expand our efforts to other states."

Each suit claims the Internet giant failed to divulge to its users that the AOL 5.0 upgrade would make dramatic changes to the users' operating systems and would interfere with the user's ability to connect to the competing ISP networks.

"AOL 5.0 promised users 500 free hours of faster, better Internet access," Berman said. "But in reality, many novice users found that once they installed AOL 5.0, removing the software was nearly impossible. This was a brazen attempt by AOL to hold these customers hostage as long as they wanted to connect to the Internet."

Rich D'Amato, AOL spokesperson, said that is simply not the case, and the lawsuits are meritless.

"The 5.0 software provides users with the ability to select AOL as their default Internet connection, but only if they make the choice to do so," D'Amato said. "It's designed to provide a more stable online environment, but it doesn't prevent users from accessing the Internet through another provider."

The final step in the AOL 5.0 installation process allows users to select AOL as their provider of choice. By doing so, users override settings that would permit access to other ISPs.

According to Berman, the AOL 5.0 upgrade is allegedly an insidious way the company could force consumers to use AOL.

"Once the software was up and running, it changed so many of the systems configurations, the average user had no hope of connecting with anyone else other than AOL" Berman said. "Many who tried to unwind the installation found that it was almost impossible since it affected more than 200 files."

Technicians of independent ISPs have been swamped by callers asking for help to return their personal computers to regular programming throughout the U.S. In order to repair a computer's dial-up properties after installing the AOL 5.0 upgrade, users must re-program their device manager settings.

After selecting the network adapter area and double clicking on the AOL adapter, a user may modify the device properties of their connection. If they operate with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Windows 95 or 98, users must disable the AOL adapter in order to surf the Internet and still connect to AOL.

The New York suit is the eighth action filed against American Online this year. Attorneys hav