AOL: Privacy or Piracy?

As a PC consultant introducing his clients to email and the web, I personally recommended and installed America Online (AOL) at least fifty times, probably more. To keep current with AOL, I had an account myself until two years ago.

Unused Account Gets SPAM.  I closed my AOL account, although my wife enjoyed using it, when I found buckets of SPAM pouring into a screenname I’d set up and never used. Since the screenname was unique and unlikely to be generated by a dictionary attack, I assumed internal piracy. This was later confirmed when an ex-employee was prosecuted for stealing screennames. So much for privacy.

Checking Out AIM Webmail.  Recently I read that AOL was offering webmail to users of their AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) service and to folks, like me, who’d closed their regular AOL accounts. To see what they were offering and how it worked, I set up an AIM account with my old AOL screenname, then followed the links offering free webmail.

Almost As Advertised.  Two or three clicks and a few web-seconds later, I had webmail with my old screenname at aim.com. Easy to use. Nice features. Plenty of storage. What’s not to like? Well, there was just one thing. When I clicked on the addressbook, I found it populated with the names and email addresses of people I hadn’t contacted in years — literally.

Privacy or Piracy?  You might think that really convenient. Me too, except it makes me wonder what other information they still have, who they’ve been sharing it with, and whether it’s any safer than that unused screenname that was inundated with SPAM. Privacy or privacy? You tell me.

SMOKING:  If you’re a heavy smoker and want to quit, please read my article on How to Quit Smoking. It worked for me and hundreds like me.

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