The Menace of
America Online (AOL)

     Following its merger with Time-Warner, AOL now has unparalleled control over mass media in America. The Justice Department needs to examine the monopolistic power which AOL possesses. AOL controls the largest portal to news, financial services, and entertainment on the Internet for 24 million families. And AOL doesn't encourage those families to breeze right on to the Internet, it forces its subscribers to remain in its high-pressure bazaar where its own and its partners' goods and services are hawked night and day.

      The technologically challenged AOL subscribers, having been taken in by AOL's mass advertising as the easiest and the best, have a hard time finding the entry to the world-wide resources of the Internet. And the unwary subscriber is forced to provide personal information which AOL uses and sells to its partners, creating consumer profiles which target specific purchasing patterns.

      Congress recently passed the Financial Services Modernization Act which allows banks, insurance companies, and stockbrokers to affiliate and share personal consumer data among themselves without obtaining the consumers' permission. When Sheila Kuehl, a California Assemblywoman, presented a bill establishing more stringent privacy protection for California consumers, AOL and its subsidiaries spent huge sums lobbying against the legislation.

      Part of the complaint against Microsoft was that it was using unfair marketing tactics in its competition with Netscape. AOL purchased Netscape and turned it into a lapdog, essentially destroying the Netscape Navigator browser version 6. AOL had earlier bought out CompuServe, one of its major Internet competitors, and reduced it to a company which nobody hears of anymore.

      Even before its purchase of Time-Warner for $184 billion--the largest acquisition ever--AOL was the number one source for news on the Internet. CNN is 10th in Internet news. AOL is moving toward world dominance in information dissemination. It recently paid $8.2 billion for the 50% interest of its partner, Bertelsmann group, in AOL Europe and AOL Australia. Germany's Bertelsmann group is the world's largest book publisher.

     As Robert Scheer recently wrote in a Los Angeles Times column, "AOL proclaims its faith in the free market--merrily gobbling up competitors--while at the same time insisting on government intervention to ward off rivals that threaten the company's profits."

      AOL is threatening lawsuits to keep its exclusive power over its instant messaging software used by more than 40 million Americans as a way to communicate online. AOL recently purchased its major competitor in this arena, ICQ, so it now controls 80 million users of the instant messsaging system. The 800 million messages per day that these subscribers send far exceeds the mail volume of the U.S. Postal Service. AOL continues to fight to keep non-AOL members from using its messaging system. For a time AOL was also trying to force the government to provide "open access" to broadband cable, but now that it purchased Time-Warner the enthusiasm suddenly vanished.

      In September, a New York Times article exposed AOL's attempt to seize the revenue stream from interactive television, which combines TV with some of the elements of the Internet. AOL recently completed a deal with Japanese cellular phone giant NTT DoCoMo, giving AOL access to NTT DoCoMo's proprietary i-mode service that provides access to the Internet through cellular phones. NTT DoCoMo is paying $100 million for a 42.3% stake in AOL Japan, making it the largest shareholder. AOL is getting access to wireless technology, considered the future of cyberspace, and access to i-mode's 12 million subscribers in a market where AOL has only 450,000 members.

     The remedy for this AOL menace is for information consumers to become more savvy, waking up to AOL's monopolistic and coercive tactics.

"Many people can do much better than AOL, but are either afraid of learning new software or feel they couldn't, and AOL loves to keep people believing that latter lie. Why continue to use a shoddy service that isn't even a direct connection to the internet? Why continue to try and squeeze data through AOL's inferior proxy servers?"

KnightHeart of

      In the online college courses I teach I've found that students using AOL have been unable to access key course material and have had to sign up with a legitimate Internet access provider. Most of the people I know who continue with AOL simply don't realize what a scam AOL is. But many people are waking up to AOL's unscrupulous tactics, so a new day is dawning.