AOL Raises ‘Badware’ Flags

AOL might want to check the bottom of its shoes. StopBadware.org is the latest in a string of bad publicity the company has drawn.

The organization, sponsored by Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for
Internet & Society, among others, has labeled AOL 9.0
“badware” as part of an open inquiry into the free software.

In its report, StopBadware complains mostly about what happens when
users install AOL 9.0.

Without disclosure, AOL installs the AOL toolbar and icons to Internet Explorer (IE), links to the RealPlayer homepage and the Real.com radio tuner, in the IE favorites list, as well as an AOL Deskbar to the user’s taskbar.

The organization said AOL is wrong to update its software
automatically and also to force users to take actions and thus
interfere with computer use.

StopBadware recommends that users do not install the AOL software
unless they are comfortable with the risks or until AOL
updates.

The watchdog’s remarks could be particularly damaging to AOL because
it is crucial to AOL’s revamped business strategy that users feel
comfortable downloading their free advertising-supported software.

But AOL spokesperson Andrew Weinstein said installing AOL 9.0 is one
of the best things users can do to protect themselves online.

“Users will be much safer using AOL than not using AOL. No company
has done more to protect consumers from malware than AOL,” Weinstein
told internetnews.com.

“The issues are mostly smaller disclosure issues and things we
already planned to address in the next version of AOL software,” he
said.

About a month ago, AOL announced an ambitious plan to cut its ISP
business and billions of dollars in costs at the same time by
altering its business model to become the next Yahoo.

Since then, its had to fight for its name in the press.

First, there was the transformation of positive news about cost
cutting into a downsized reality when the company announced it
was trimming 5,000 jobs.

Then AOL leaked search
queries for 658,000 users.

The data set included intimate personal details and led to the firing of three AOL employees.

Then there was news of the company’s dig for gold in the backyard of a
convicted spammer’s parents’ home.

All this at a time when AOL’s strategic shift demands good publicity
to attract users back to its software services.

All this despite a slew of new and free services from the company.

Over the past month, AOL announced free e-mail domains, a new video search, AOL AIM Pro, and AOL My eAddress.

And just today, it rolled out a new music store offering unlimited on-demand streams and downloads of more than 2.5 million audio tracks and thousands of music videos, according to a statement.

Yet still, today is another day of bad press for AOL.

All of it has led to a tone of stoic optimism from AOL, because
sometimes living an oxymoron is the best you can do.

“Clearly we have a lot of great things coming out
of this company and consumers are learning about them,” Weinstein said.

“We’re excited
about our move to make so many of our services available for free.”

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