AOL, probably the most famous Internet services company, now has 17.7 million U.S. subscribers. People use AOL services to connect to the Internet, send e-mail, read latest news, listen to favorite music, etc. The company even makes own software – instant messengers, desktop search tools, mobile applications, antivirus and even anti-spyware programs. AOL offers a lot for free. However, “free” was never meant to mean “good”.
AOL 9.0 (free version) is considered to be “badware”. At least experts at StopBadware.org, a reputable “Neighborhood Watch” campaign aimed at fighting badware, think so, and it would be difficult to argue with them.
In a report released yesterday, StopBadware.org describes AOL software as a product that:
1. installs additional applications (Viewpoint Media Player, Pure Networks Port Magic, QuickTime, etc.) without disclosure;
2. fails to uninstall own components completely;
3. adds an additional toolbar, icons and bookmarks to Internet Explorer without asking for user permission;
4. installs AOL Deskbar without user consent;
5. updates installed components automatically without disclosing the fact that automatic updating is enabled by default.
Experts also pinpoint other reasons why free AOL software has been called bad. Some of them might look over-rated – AOL doesn’t log your keystrokes or drop spyware after all, but we think that they are quite objective. It looks like StopBadware.org is aware of complaints by AOL subscribers who aren’t very happy with current AOL software.
It should be noted that StopBadware.org didn’t officially classify AOL 9.0 as badware yet (report status is “Open Inquiry”). AOL has responded that they are taking steps to address what’s noted in report and that they are working on a fix. This makes us believe that AOL programs will never be called harmful or annoying.
Still and all, StopBadware.org efforts are creditable. The group not only fights “real” badware, but also prevents popular, well-known software from becoming more like badware. User privacy and opinion should be above any money.