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AOL client accused of 'badware behaviour'

Version 9.0 heavily criticised

AOL's free internet client software has earned the company a slap on the wrist from StopBadware.org, a consortium set up to combat malicious software. In a report, the group advises users to steer clear of the software because of its "badware behaviour".

The report blasts the free version of AOL 9.0 because it "interferes with computer use", and because of the way it meddles with components such as the Internet Explorer browser and the Windows taskbar. The suite is also criticised for engaging in "deceptive installation" and because some components fail to uninstall.

The main problem is that AOL simply doesn't properly inform users of what its software will do to their PCs, said John Palfrey, StopBadware's co-director. "We don't think that the disclosure is adequate and there are certain mistakes in the way the software is architected in terms of leaving some programs behind," he said. "When there are large programs, some of which stay around after you've thought you've uninstalled them, they need to be disclosed to the user."

Because AOL has taken steps to address StopBadware's concerns, the group has held off on officially rating AOL 9.0 as badware, Palfrey said.

Still, the report is not good news for AOL. Other software that has been the target of StopBadware reports includes Kazaa, the Jessica Simpson Screensaver and the Starware News Toolbar.

Backed by tech companies such as Google, Lenovo and Sun Microsystems, StopBadware bills itself as a Neighbourhood Watch of the internet. It is run out of two well-respected university departments: Oxford University's Internet Institute and Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in Massachusetts.

Yesterday's report states that AOL is taking steps to address StopBadware's concerns, and that the company has confirmed that there is a design flaw in its uninstaller software.

An AOL spokesman said that it is "clearly ridiculous" to categorise the company's software as badware. "No company has done more to fight malware than AOL, and millions of users are protected by our software every day," said company representative Andrew Weinstein in an email. "We're reviewing the suggestions made in the report, and we are taking steps to address them, as they mostly involve minor UI [user interface] issues."

StopBadware's report can be found here.

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