Group: AOL 9.0 Uses Malware Tactics

AOL is being accused of using malware-like tactics to install software unbeknownst to users when they install AOL 9.0, the company's latest version of its online service software. The charge was made by StopBadware.org, a coalition between Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University.

"AOL plainly does not belong in the same category as the all-too-prevalent, garden variety badware providers. But the free version of AOL 9.0 that we tested, in our view, does not live up to the company's rich legacy," Berkman Center executive director John Palfrey said.

StopBadware.org found eight separate instances where AOL 9.0 used questionable methods to either install software or make changes to a user's computer. Among them is additional software installed without permission including the AOL Toolbar to Internet Explorer, forced actions during installation, the addition of buttons and favorites to IE, and the failure to uninstall software completely.

In its response to the StopBadware charges, AOL explained that its failure to uninstall completely was a known flaw in the uninstaller in which two executable files remain, even after the computer is restarted. The company was taking steps to address it, including issuing a patch to remedy the problem, it said.

It should be noted that AOL 9.0 has been available since 2003, with the latest update coming in November 2004.

AOL was also taking steps to address other issues brought up by the report, it told the non-profit group. Palfrey said the group was very impressed by AOL's quick response and its commitment to address problems that StopBadware found objectionable.

"What we are calling on AOL to do today is to honor that trust by telling users exactly what they're putting on their computers, give users an easy way to opt out of having so many programs installed and running after download, and ensure that users can uninstall all the applications they don't want on their computers," he said.

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