Both AOL's internet software and the AOL Instant Messenger program (AIM) are force installing unwanted software called Viewpoint Media Player on people's computers.
There is no option to not install Viewpoint. In fact, if you remove Viewpoint, it will be reinstalled the next time you load AOL! I could hardly believe it when the first person reported this at the message board. Then a dozen more people showed up to report the same thing.
The software creates a unique tracking number ("Customer Unique Identifier" is their term). This number and other information is transmitted, without asking, to Viewpoint servers. The software downloads updates and installs them on the computer, also without asking.
Combine all that with the fact that it is installed without permission or proper disclosure. I'm sorry, but you do not install software on my computer that transmits data across the internet without my permission. For that matter, you don't install any software on my computer without my permission, period.
After finding this thing on my computer last year, I sent Viewpoint a letter asking how it is distributed. From their reply, I determined that AIM had installed it. I then downloaded a fresh copy of AIM from AOL's web site and installed it again (I had removed it months earlier). There was absolutely no disclosure whatsoever that it was going to bundle Viewpoint.
There are other things that AOL software does. For instance, some software such as Netscape and ICQ 2000b will insert free.aol.com into Internet Explorer's "Trusted" security zone. When you put a web site in the "Trusted" zone, Internet Explorer will allow that site to download, install and execute any piece of software completely without interaction with the user.
The reason for AOL inserting that entry became clear when we started spotting ActiveX files from free.aol.com in people's HijackThis log files at the message board. AOL is inserting their web site into the "Trusted" zone so that they can install software without the user knowing they are doing it!
AIM is adware. That is, it displays a small banner ad in the program and it also pops up an advertisement window when you launch it. Recently, AIM has even started to download movie trailers and play them at random intervals. You heard me, AOL is using peoples' internet connection to download huge video files in order to play movie trailers.
Both AOL's internet service software and AIM also install a piece of software called Wild Tangent, again without asking. Wild Tangent is used to play games and other multimedia. Some Winamp plugins also use it. The problem with Wild Tangent is that it installs an autoupdater and turns it on by default.
Wild Tangent's updater will transmit data about the computer on which it is installed. That data includes hardware specs, some information about installed software and how the user is interacting with the software. The company says this is done to see how their software is used and that they might share it with third parties. Several antispyware products detect and remove Wild Tangent.
When are software developers going to understand that they cannot transmit data from a person's machine without their permission? There are laws forbidding data theft, so why are they allowed to do this? When are they going to understand that they cannot download and install software without permission?
There are better and cheaper Internet Service Providers. Go to BroadBandReports and find one. There are other instant messenger programs that will let you use the AIM network as well as several other networks such as Yahoo and ICQ. Two very good multi network instant messengers are Trillian and GAIM.
AOL has been losing more subscribers over the past couple of years than they have gained. They are going to lose far more if they don't change this behavior. This is unacceptable and I would never put up with AOL's behavior. I suggest you don't put up with it either and find a company who will treat you with some respect.