StopBadware.org puts AOL software on 'badware' list

StopBadware.org, the group spearheaded by Harvard Law School and Oxford University to warn consumers about software it deems harmful or deceptive, Monday issued a notice flagging AOL's client software used in the AOL online service as "badware."

AOL 9.0 has been added to the "Badware Watch List," a kind of software hall of shame, because the AOL software compels the installation of additional and unnecessary software without informing the user, according to StopBadware.org. AOL 9.0 also forces users to take actions they can't avoid, while also installing "potential adware components" in a manner viewed as badware behavior.

Being added to StopBadware.org's growing watch list--which includes an assortment of screen savers, gaming applications, Kazaa, and spyware that are said to display badware traits--drew immediate attention from AOL.

Clearly stung by the criticism, AOL said it would address several of the issues raised by StopBadware.org concerning AOL. 9.0. In addition, AOL said its upcoming client software--not yet named but now in beta--would be substantially different from the now 3-year-old AOL. 9.0.

"In the current version, AOL 9.0, we're taking steps to address this," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein, alluding to StopBadware.org's criticism that the additional software installed with AOL 9.0--QuickTime, RealPlayer, Viewpoint Media Play and Pure Networks Port Magic--is done without informing users.

"These programs support functionality in AOL, but [StopBadware.org] wants additional disclosure, so we're adding that language for the users," said Weinstein. He said it was unlikely AOL would alter the AOL 9.0 at this point to make it possible for users to not install the additional programs with the AOL browser.

However, the next version of the AOL client software, expected out in a few months will have fewer programs bundled into it, mainly because most users now have these programs anyway, said Weinstein.

StopBadware.org also objected to AOL 9.0 compelling users to update their connectivity services by displaying a dialog box that can't be closed otherwise, and adding certain "AOL-centric shortcuts," including the AOL Toolbar, additional icons and folders, without a user's permission. Potential adware components, called Softomate Toolbar and Fizzlebar, both install and can potentially function as adware.

"Clearly, AOL does not belong in the same category as the malicious badware providers we have previously identified," noted John Palfrey, co-director of StopBadware.org and executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "But the free version of AOL 9.0 that we tested, in our view, does not live up to the company's rich legacy."

Palfrey said StopBadware.org had provided AOL with an advance copy of the report issued Monday, and was "impressed" with AOL's response to identify and rectify potential problems.

Palfrey said, "With this report, we highlight ways AOL 9.0 constitutes badware while calling on AOL to provide users with proper information on what exactly they are putting on their computers and a means of to opt-out or uninstall unwanted programs."

Stopbadware.org co-director Jonathan Zittrain, who is professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said "mainstream software providers" must inform users of installation details so they will be "aware of what is happening to their machines, can exercise meaningful choice over updates, and are provided with the means to easily remove software should they change their minds."

Google, a sponsor of the StopBadware.org project, recently announced it would actively warn users using its search service about any programs and applications listed on the Badware Watch List if they tried to access them.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ellen Messmer

Network World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?