RealTime IT News

AOL Accused of Cache Theft

A leading Internet consultant is taking issue with America Online Inc.'s practice of caching Web pages.

John Robb, a principal at technology research firm Gomez Advisors, recently wrote a column for the GomezWire Soapbox accusing AOL of being the worst offender of server proxy cache theft in the industry.

Robb said America Online's aggressive proxy system essentially takes the product of one company and gives it to another for free.

"AOL's proxy cache system has been a problem for years. Now that AOL has emerged as the dominant Internet access route of consumer choice, it's becoming a very serious issue."

Robb estimates that between 40 and 50 percent of a company's Web site traffic is stolen by AOL's proxy cache servers. A proxy cache is a copy of a Web site that resides on a company's intermediate server. Page views are not received by the actual web site, but by the cached version on the server.

AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose defended the company's practice.

"We cache to improve our member experience, to serve up pages more quickly and to compensate for the fact that many Web sites really don't have adequate bandwidth to serve up their content to an AOL-sized audience."

Primrose said there are HTML protocols that allow a web site to determine how often their site must be refreshed. If a particular Web site owner believes that their traffic is being stolen, they could certainly re-set these protocols.

"AOL doesn't sell advertising based on the page views to these sites, so we are not stealing their hits," she said.

Primrose AOL believes caching does not violate copyright laws since a site owner can easily prevent AOL from caching their web pages or program the pages to be constantly refreshed.

Robb believes that a class action suit by of Web site owners will resolve the proxy server issue with AOL. However, Robb added "if AOL posted the information on what users are doing at their Web site to the site owners, there would not be an issue of page view theft to pursue."