AOL Sued For Putting Ads In Email

from the you've-got-lawsuits! dept

We Americans sure do love filing lawsuits for just about any reason. The latest is a guy who has sued AOL for putting text ads in his email messages, claiming that because he pays for his AOL account (that might be his first mistake), these ads are “fraud, unjust enrichment” and a violation of California business codes. He’s trying to turn it into a class action lawsuit as well. Here’s another suggestion: switch your email account. Hopefully this gets thrown out quickly.

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Companies: aol

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Comments on “AOL Sued For Putting Ads In Email”

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Anonymous Coward says:

To be fair ...

If I ever pay for an email account (and I’m not planning on it) then I would expect that to not contain any ads. If I use gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc. then I expects to be fed ads and don’t complain.

Granted the lawsuit is silly, but as with some other ridiculus law suits out there he might just win.

Yakko Warner says:

Re: To be fair ...

I’m inclined to agree. Adding ads to your emails on a paid service seems like pretty scummy practice. I don’t know how much of a legal right he has, though; I mean, their service is what it is, and if it doesn’t meet your standards for service and ethics, you’re free to take your money elsewhere.

I guess it’s more fashionable to sue somebody for not giving you what you want, though…

HB_HD says:

Re: Re: To be fair ...

Pay attention, folks. Guy is paying for DIAL-UP service, not the actual email service. The email service itself is the same as the email that everyone else gets for free. it’s the use of the dial-up connection that is being paid for. That’s why ads are in the emails, and they are in the TOS (terms of service).

Anonymous Coward says:

Please Mike dont tell me you fight for the rights of Spammers to!

Lets take a look at my email today. Wow I must be a popular guy! 182 new messages! hmmmm Whats the first message.

Try Viagra.. Huh dont need that.. (Delete)
Losing Your Hair?… Dont need that either (Delete)

Wait these are crap spam EMAILS GRRRRRR..

Oh wait heres one from my friend who has an AOL account.


Yes I know you can block spam, Switch your email account etc..!!! But in this case I hope he wins!!!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Please Mike dont tell me you fight for the rights of Spammers to!

Not too good at comprehending what you read, are you?

The story isn’t about someone getting spam emails. The story is about AOL putting a signature line at the bottom of emails that contain an ad (I believe just when he sends an email, it’s a long time since I’ve seen an AOL account in action).

They’ve done this for years, and I can guarantee they’re part of the terms and service for the AOL account. So, if he doesn’t like it, he can switch to an email service that doesn’t do that. Simple.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Please Mike dont tell me you fight for the rights of Spammers to!

Trolls don’t tend to log in, nor point out simple truths.

Trolls do respond with inflammatory nonsense, often anonymously.

One of us fits this criteria, Anonymous Coward, I’m sorry if you can’t accept honest criticism when you’re wrong (albeit a little tongue-in-cheek in the wording. Sue me, I’m at work on a Friday night and slightly bored…).

Anonymous Coward says:

ADS today have become so rampant that I actually think this guy should win. What’s next? I hope we can start suing cable companies for advertising on cable when we pay enormous amounts for it! Personally, I’m sick and tired of spending half my time in life being advertised to, wasting my time!

Stick it to them!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I believe he was talking about the ads that take up 1/4 to 1/2 of the screen while you are watching something. Like the master and commander ads that took up 1/3rd of the screen and added a lot of ocean sound effects. That messes with the tv you are watching. But then again the kind of thing he was talking about wasn’t Comcasts doing, but was the networks that run the shows (in case of pop on screen ads)

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:

Why pause them and get up and then fast forward? Let them play while you’re getting a drink….then you don’t have to watch them or fast forward them. Worst case, if you miss a few seconds on the show you can rewind, watch to the next commercial, hit live to catch up the time, miss some of the commercial, get a drink or what have you and come back.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I hope we can start suing cable companies for advertising on cable when we pay enormous amounts for it!

The cable networks are the one that are broadcasting advertisements, not the cable providers. Sure, the cable company fits some of their own ads for services in there, but all of the advertising money goes to the networks.

One notable exception is Armstrong cable they have banner ads in place in the guide menu of their set top boxes. I don’t even think Comcast stoops that low (at least, I don’t remember them doing that…it’s been a while since I’ve been with them, though).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Since you’re blissfully unaware, I’ll explain it to you. Most modern services are subsidised in some way by advertising, be it the magazine you read, the TV show you watch or the email service you use.

None of these things are free, but the consumer wants to pay a bare minimum for the service (or in the case of emails, etc., nothing.). So, the services are subsidised by advertising, which takes care of a large portion of the cost of providing the service. If advertising did not exist on TV, you would pay significantly more for your service. If advertising did not exist on email services, AOL’s service, GMail, Hotmail, etc. would either not exist or have a monthly charge.

If you weren’t advertised to, you would probably not have a cable service since most people would not be able to afford the unsubsidised fee. If you hate the ads so much, do as many others do: ignore / DVR over the ads, or buy/rent the DVDs of the shows you watch.

Dave in Chicago (profile) says:

AOL should eat it and die

I’m completely on this guy’s side. If I pay for a service I don’t expect to see that company using my email to advertise to others or to me. If they do, I drop the service. When I got tired of all of the pop-up ads on my cable TV shows, I canceled my Comcast account. I don’t miss it for a minute. Companies that take your money to deliver a service then use your paid account to deliver an additional revenue stream should be shut down by the government. (my 2 cents)

TheCrut says:

Re: AOL should eat it and die

It’s not the government’s job to shut down AOL, they can do that just fine by themselves in the free market. $21.95/month for dialup or $25/month for DSL from someone else…
Oh right, high speed. Um, well you can tack on our software and decreased internet functionality to your current provider for an extra $30/month.

Dave in Chicago (profile) says:

Re: AOL should eat it and die

Ok.. a few of you responded with what you thought were answers.

You can’t use a DVR or TIVO to skip over pop-up ads. There is a difference between pop-up ads and insert ads. If you skip over a pop-up ad you skip over that portion of the program or movie.

The pop-up ads on cable play across the screen WHILE the program or movie is showing. They whoosh, gush, buzz, clomp and generally have a sound track that is often louder than the sound track of the programming. (… the murder is WHEEE… CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP… WHHHHOOOOSSHHHHHHHH WATCH THIS OTHER SHOW!!!!.. oh my god.. I would never have guess that. The end. An now.. the regular insert commercials. Yay!

Movies DVD’s etc use ads at the beginning of the program. In case you’ve ever been to one, you’ll notice that they don’t play over the top of the movie. If you’re playing a DVD, skip the commercials at the beginning of the DVD.

For the guy who says I must drop a lot of services. I have. If I don’t like the service I do just what the others say to do. I vote with my feet. If I want to see a program I can stream it. There I expect ads because I’m not paying for the service. When I didn’t like other people’s messages and ads being attached to my email messages with no control over those messages, I got my own paid email service. Cost? $8 a YEAR.

For the guy who thinks that the use of ads lowers the price of the service… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I use a similar service that I (and you as well) pay for. The cost is lower than what I pay for my Internet connection. It is based on a global network about the same size as the Internet. It uses an all digital infrastructure. It is profitable. It does not use ads in the content. It’s called the telephone. You may have noticed that the phone company does not need to interrupt your phone call with ads that play over your conversation. Why? You PAID for the service. In short, ads added to your email messages. Pop-up ads over programming etc., don’t lower the cost of your service. Competition does that. They only serve to increase revenue based on the business model that you can shove an increasingly large load of crap down people’s throat’s over time. People accept it because “it’s been that way a long time”. A poor reason to accept anything from anyone.

Companies treat us like a bunch of Jim Jones converts because we’re so easily brain washed. When the time comes they know that we will all step up and drink the Flavor-Aide. Why not? It’s always been that way?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: AOL should eat it and die

Telephones are one of the cheapest services available. The infrastructure is done. Its been paid over hundreds of times. Telephones aren’t digital either, unless you’re talking about cell phones. Which are fundamentally different. And if you talk on them enough, they become exorbitantly more than internet service. In fact, most basic cell phone plans are more expensive than internet, so I highly doubt you meant cell phones. So ya, you’re talking about a non digital infrastructure that was laid down decades ago. Yea. I’m surprised that service is cheap. Beyond that, commercials in telephone conversations doesn’t work. Its completely unacceptable. It defeats many purposes of the phone call. However, an email ad at the bottom of an email doesn’t interfere. Commercials during tv shows don’t interfere with your life because the show is still taking up just as much time and you plan for it ahead of time. Conversations range in uses. I may call you to say “I’m on my way” and hang up. I’d never use a service where i’d have to listen to an ad thats longer than what i want to use the service for.

Also, name one pop up ad that your cable company put on your television. And don’t include the ones that the networks include… unless your completely confused and think the cable company and the networks are the same thing. Hate to break it to you, they’re different companies.

And to be honest, your argument for why ads don’t make something cheaper is just faulty logic. Using an anecdote about how you have a service that has no commercials and isn’t expensive does not imply that all services are not expensive without commercials.

Competition lowers prices and they use ads to make up the money they lost in lowering prices.

And learn punctuation. I don’t think your last statement is a question? (i did that on purpose)

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’ll find that AOL advertise the dialup as having an AOL mailbox. Either this means that he’s paying for the email service with the dialup, in which case he has a… er… case, or they are using anticompetitive practices by highlighting one single free service over the range available and thus making themselves targets for a class action suit. Either way, AOL lose.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From the article:

“AOL has been offering free e-mail for the past two years but still sells dial-up subscriptions that include e-mail and other services.”

I don’t know how AOL operate right now other what’s stated here, but he’s paying for one of two things by the sounds of this. First, a package service that includes something other than email that cannot be provided for free. Secondly, the right to use an email address that ends

Either way, he’s free to move away from one private company providing a service to another if he feels the charges are unjustified. If he’s only staying for the latter reason, I can understand why he’d be annoyed, but why jump to a lawsuit unless he’s running a business that depends on an AOL address (in which case, I could have told him 10 years ago that he was a fool)? Unless he truly depends on the specific address he’s using, there’s nothing to stop him moving to a better provider.

Simple Mind says:

he wants 5 million for this!

Was this guy somehow prevented from quitting the ad-laden service he didn’t like? Was the sight of ads so traumatizing to do him mental harm? This is just another poor idiot dreaming he can get a few bucks handout for making a nuisance of himself. It is a sad that he can find a lawyer willing to represent him. Filing such a frivolous suit should cost both of them $.

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: he wants 5 million for this!

But it’s *not* a frivolous suit. AOL could have been piggy-backing their ads on his business emails for years, and he wouldn’t have found out unless he had reason to send an email to himself.

I use a free service from AOL (I don’t want to – I had a Netscape account and they bought them over; I have hundreds of archived emails with no way to back them up and the address has been given to many companies that I *want* to keep in touch with, so I’m kind of locked in…) and it was only when a friend didn’t bother to delete the crap from a reply I discovered they were sending these ads out and making it sound like something *I* was recommending.

I hope he wins and screws them royally.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: he wants 5 million for this!

OK then, serious question:

“the address has been given to many companies that I *want* to keep in touch with”

What, exactly, is stopping them from sending them a new address and asking that they use that? Do you also keep hold of old properties in case people you have a vague connection to try knocking on the door?

Seriously though, by keeping the old address in spite of your objections to the way AOL run things, you’re implicitly supporting them. A lawsuit – especially one this frivolous (AOL have been doing this for years and it’s part of their T&Cs, so a lawsuit will not succeed) – will not change things. The only way to end it is to take business elsewhere. Millions of other have done so, why not you?

OK, it’s a slightly different situation for you in that AOL bought Netscape (though that was many years ago, and they would almost certainly have asked for agreement to new T&Cs), so you didn’t explicitly join them. But still, why continue to give them support instead of changing your email address?

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: he wants 5 million for this!

But still, why continue to give them support instead of changing your email address?

Three reasons.

1) Sentimental. It was my first “proper” email address (back in 1999) and I’m quite attached to it. (It’s no longer my “primary” address, though…)

2) Archival. From the outset I have maintained a “Kept for reference” folder, that now has several hundred emails with software unlock codes, forum passwords, warranty details etc., and there’s no obvious way to archive those off easily without doing it one email at a time. I can’t be @rsed.

3) Practical. For a number of years this was the address I had printed on business cards. I still (very occasionally) get contacted by people who didn’t have their own email address when I gave them the card, and so I would have no way of contacting them to tell them that my address had changed.

As far as I can remember, they tried to “tempt” me with new T&Cs, offering “much more space”. I refused to sign up as there was a clause that under the new T&Cs any email not accessed within 60 days would be automatically deleted and thus after two months my “archive” would have evaporated. I continue to use the account under the old Netscape T&Cs.

AOL Suck.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 he wants 5 million for this!

Fair enough, I understand those reasons. But, hoping for a massive lawsuit result against the company for daring to have part of a business model in place that they’ve had for a decade or more (I remember a conversation about this subject in the late 90s regarding AOL) – a bit harsh?

Anyway, at least you seem to be going about it in the right way – reading the T&Cs before agreeing to them, not using it as the primary account for a business, etc. I certainly wouldn’t trust them as the only source for my archived data though, and I’d recommend spending the long boring evening sorting through for anything you might need. One day, AOL will probably decide these free services from people who don’t want new T&Cs aren’t worth keeping online…

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 he wants 5 million for this!

hoping for a massive lawsuit result against the company for daring to have part of a business model in place that they’ve had for a decade or more (I remember a conversation about this subject in the late 90s regarding AOL) – a bit harsh?

I’m particularly thinking about the part of the business model that relies on them not being transparent about this; it’s hidden in the T&Cs, and there’s no way short of CCing every mail to yourself that you can monitor what they’re adding to your messages, and certainly no way you can stop an “inappropriate” contextual ad before it is sent.

For example, someone sending an email giving condolences on the death of a loved one could easily have an ad for a dating service included, or someone advising a friend to move to Linux could have a Windows ad tacked on the end.

I’m all for the business model remaining, if they gave you an option to preview (and veto) the ad they intend to attach, perhaps even to pay, say, 2p (4c) to omit the ad from a particular message. Until then, screw ’em.

Anonymous Coward says:

Most of you people are straight up retarded. No one is paying for an AOL email address, they are paying for the connection, be that dial-up or DSL. Many people pay AOL because they are clueless and think they need to when they don’t (they once used dial-up). So the model that gmail, hotmail and yahoo use of putting in Ads is completely valid for AOL. This law suite is dumb. What I find ironic is all the AOL hatters out there that are probably visiting an unbranded web page that AOL runs every day.

Michael B says:

I know what the Services will Say...

All they will claim is that their services actually cost more than what you are paying for them and using ads like that offsets those costs.

Take, for example, Comcast, who not only charges for their service but then imposes caps and throttling on its customers… all of its pages include advertising (i.e. their home page, their webmail page, etc.) which, whioe it does not transmit to an email recipient, is always “in your face” as a user.

If this guy wins, I can envision all kinds of lawsuits being filed against other ISPs!

ad hater says:

I hate paid for ads

I used yahoo email as a pay account because it came with my phone subscription. One day, they changed the interface and it had obnoxious email ads all over the place. Some were throbacks to the days when there bright blinking neon text on a black background to get your attention (remember those old internet days?). well the ads were horrible and I wrote yahoo everyday and complained. Never heard back from them. I also started emailing the companies of the ads. A few of them responded saying they were sorry I didn’t like their ad. I ended up changing phone service and terminating my pay email account. I got switched over to the free yahoo account. It had considerably less ads all over the place. I was amazed. I still ended up switching to gmail. Now I have a free account with lots of ads, but at least I’m not angry.

John (profile) says:

The guy may not win...

… but who wants to bet that AOL will settle out of court, give him tons of money, change their T&C, and make the guy sign a non-disclosure agreement to make the case go away?

It’s the typical lawsuit in America: it’s not about suing the company to make them “pay” for a “wrong”, but to see how much money you can get.

Should the guy really be using AOL for a business e-mail address? Probably not.
Should he have read the T&C to see what the terms of use were? Probably.
Should he have checked to see if AOL was putting any ads at the bottom of his e-mail? Probably.

But why do this when he can file a lawsuit (and a lawyer will take it) and get some money from AOL?

HB_HD says:

Ads are a way of life

(in case some of you missed it) Pay attention, folks. Guy is paying for DIAL-UP service, not the actual email service. The email service itself is the same as the email that everyone else gets for free. it’s the use of the dial-up connection that is being paid for. That’s why ads are in the emails, and they are in the TOS (terms of service).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not Silly at all. Maybe you enjoy being exploited?

I think its silly when you don’t read the article and make assumptions. He doesn’t pay for his email. its a free service. He pays for his internet connection. He has a free service from AOL and a paid service from AOL. He assumes since he pays for one, he shouldn’t get any ads in the other. I think its silly that you missed that.

Also, magazines have had a free ride for too long. How many magazines have paid subscriptions with no ads in them? Ads appear in paid services all the time. They’re not evil. Its used so they don’t charge as much for the service itself. Its called subsidized cost.

Vateor says:

Ads and AOL?

I am no AOL fan but if he doesn’t like the ads just quit the service. The lawyer who filed this needs to have his license removed, and I hope AOL counter sues, after they win of course, for this kind of frivolity. It is this kind of litigation that gives LA and California the reputation it has.
If there were no ads, Techdirt would not be free, folks. Would you pay for it, could its producers afford to provide it?
This is typical of our something for nothing mentality, and helps explain Obama’s just-around-the-corner election.

HB_HD says:

What is he paying for?

again, he is paying for dial-up, not ad-free email service. He could pay AOL $5,000 a month, and would still have the exact same email service AOL provides to everyone for free, which has ads. To expect ad-free email from AOL in exchange for paying for dial-up service would be like expexting your car to never need an oil change because you buy premium gas. This person obviously did not read his Terms of Service, and does not even know exactly what it is he is paying for. This is another example of friv0lous law suits. He won’t get anything. AOL does not offer (or advertise) ‘different’ email service for people who need their dial-up service to connect to the internet.

Val Fitzgerald says:

Email ads better than...

…NOW I see why AOL doesn’t put ads in emails (like I suggested that they do!) Now they’re spamming me about their services, at every opportunity. I can’t read an article or play a game anymore, without seeing their stupid ad page. OK AOL, new suggestion:

If you think your stuff is that great, DON’T INTERRUPT YOUR CUSTOMERS AT THEIR WORK/PLAY!

Rather, send a snail-mail to us. We’ll accept that a lot quicker than we will, being interrupted at what we’re doing!


Robert Shelton says:

$5 million

It’s reprehensible. It’s not just irritating, it’s bad business. It’s like going to a restaurant and having ads for random things printed on the menu. I has no place in email, and people who use it are suffering for the act. The $5 million being asked for is not enough, actually. $5 million is intended to be punitive for the company, not to help the plaintiff recoup his losses. A company the size of Time/Warner needs a much larger slap on the wrist than $5 million to fully absorb the magnitude of shady business they are conducting.

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