October 7, 2005 5:08 PM PDT

AOL revises privacy policy

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

America Online won't sell or rent members' home addresses anymore, but under changes to take effect in November, it will track member activity on AOL.com and Web searches to offer personalized content and targeted ads.

The Web search monitoring will allow AOL to offer customized search results based on a user's past searches. Members can opt out on a search-by-search basis--or entirely, AOL said on Friday.

Other portals track how their users navigate around the Web site, AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. AOL said it will not use any information about where members go on the Web when they are off the AOL service.

Other search sites are offering services that keep track of user Web searches. Yahoo does it, MSN said it plans to do it and Google applied for a patent on technology related to the practice, AOL said.

Two privacy experts gave the AOL changes mixed reviews, praising the halt to selling address lists, but complaining about the tracking aspects.

"Looks like a fairly standard privacy policy, with the usual weasel words and wiggle room where they say, 'We collect information about what you do on our service and we can use it for pretty much any business reason we can dream up,'" said Kevin Bankston, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Weinstein pointed out that AOL's privacy policy--including not reading e-mail, monitoring members outside the service or selling personal information to other companies--limits the company's ability to gather and use member information.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: "I'm glad they're not doing Gmail-like e-mail scanning and the fact that they're not renting their lists anymore is a positive. On the down side, customized searches are a real privacy problem."

AOL stopped sharing member address lists a year ago but decided to codify that move into policy in what the company said was the first significant revision to its privacy policy since 1998, Weinstein said.

The changes will be implemented on Nov. 10, AOL said in an e-mail to its more than 20 million members in the United States. The shifts will only affect U.S. users as the privacy policy is different depending on the country, Weinstein said.

AOL referred members to a frequently asked questions page and to a page detailing eight privacy commitments the company is making to its members.

 
Correction: This story misidentified the addresses AOL was renting. AOL rented users' home addresses.

7 comments

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one small step for man, one big step for...
...mankind. AOL has taken a bold and necessary step towards instilling ISP members' faith in their forpay provider. AOL is certainly big enough so that their competitors, who like to brag about their "security" and "privacy" concerns, will now be forced to put up or shut up once and for all.

Bravo AOL - there's something I never thought I'd find myself saying a few years back!
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
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they still target ads, which is against privacy
"it will track member activity on AOL.com and Web searches to offer personalized content and targeted ads." Ok why do i need targeted ads for a service the you pay for monthly?? if your ok with that, lets start sending ads to your cell phone, tv, house phone, etc, ads should be for free on programs, like regular tv, radio, no on something that you PAY for, should be AD free
Posted by digitallysick (103 comments )
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AOL USERS PLEASE READ!!!
and i quote the article " it will track member activity on AOL.com and Web searches to offer personalized content and targeted ads." So you are going to pay 23 bux a month for dial up internet, (slow enough already) and put a program that is 50 megs or more to load down your ram and hard drive, and then they will target ads to you, to make even more money off of you, so your paying them to make money off of you!!! dont be an idiot!!!
Posted by digitallysick (103 comments )
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you know you're right...
Once I take over the internet bill here, AOL will be completely deleted from our computers.

Along with picking through our trash to give us more ads, they've steadily bombarded us with tons and tons of ads and offers that no one wants. On AIM, they put even more ads -- furtherly increasing their revenue. They recently opened a portal, where anyone with a aim alias can get a mailbox and 2 gb storage for what ultimate purpose? to link even more advertisements to their services. I figure without the $23+ a month a standard provider gives to aol, they make even more off of the advertisements they tie in to this piece of crap service that when it comes down to it, doesn't offer a thing itself puts forth that I enjoy. They obviously don't care about customers privacy if they're so intent on throwing our information where ever the wind blows. Certainly, we all visit sites on whims. do they think the pitches based on those hit or miss whims will suddenly cause us to actually click those ads? I think not. Bite me aol.
Posted by (3 comments )
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This is a 'Privacy' policy ????????
One more reason to dump AOL as quickly as possible by those still
using this garbage service.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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How Does It Work?
How are they gonna display ads? I've never used AOL before. Do they have an ad-bar like opera used to have or do they open pop-ups while you're browsing?

Or is it just ads in AOL search and AOL.com?
Posted by o2mcgovem-20822100750713932708 (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The way it works...
...is the same as most any of the ISP's: when you are on their site(s), they cookie your tracks. If you're concerned about the privacy aspect which some other readers have posted to this thread, the solution is easy - whether or not that ISP is your for-pay service, do not surf on their site(s). For a cogent discussion about an ad server firm that many of the ISP's employ for this purpose, go to servedby.advertising.com and study their ethics policy, which is quite enlightening and reasonable. That firm strongly encourages you to report ISP abuses of their ethics policy directly to them. The alternative to disallowing a harmless adserver like the one mentioned is higher ISP monthly rates. If you don't wish to see their ads, it's easy to cancel them out by adjusting your browser settings and your security suite settings.
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
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