Alleged AOL Bug Triggers Class Action Lawsuit

Leading Internet service provider (ISP) and e-commerce giant America Online has been slapped with a class action lawsuit on behalf of subscribers who installed the new AOL version 5.0 software and allegedly encountered a bug that prevented them from using other ISPs.

The lawsuit, filed January 31st in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia, alleges that AOL “fraudulently concealed” the problems with its new version, and seeks damages “in the millions of dollars” for users who were affected by the bug.

AOL spokesman Rich D’Amato denied Wednesday that version 5.0 of AOL’s software prevents customers from using other Internet accounts. He said that the lawsuit has “no basis in fact or law.”

Reckless Disregard?

Lloyd Gathings, a partner with Alabama-based Gathings, Kennedy and Associates — one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs — said that AOL was aware of the bug in version 5.0, but released it “either intentionally or with reckless disregard of the consequences.”

While AOL is denying the bug’s existence, numerous beta testers have reported problems when AOL users who operate on LANs or with other Internet ISPs make the upgrade after selecting AOL as their default browser. The bug, which has been labeled the “Evil Connectoid” or “The Upgrade of Death” by some testers, supposedly resets the user’s TCP/IP settings that allow them to connect to the Internet.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would force AOL to stop shipping the software or to disclose the risks of installing it. The suit also seeks $1,000 (US$) in damages for each member of the class.

Since AOL has estimated that 1.5 to 2 million of its users have accounts with other ISPs, damages could theoretically total as much as $2 billion. Nonetheless, many analysts consider such an outcome unlikely to occur.

Other ISPs Flooded With Calls

The alleged bug has reportedly caused numerous problems for other ISPs, which have been flooded with calls from AOL users who can no longer access the services. While the problem can supposedly be fixed by reconfiguring the TCP/IP settings, many users are reporting long waits to reach customer service departments because of the problem.

According to published reports, Prodigy chief technology officer Bill Kirkner said that his company has fielded thousands of calls from customers that have been bitten by the bug. “If I was an independent software developer and I released a piece of software that fooled around with the operating system, you’d be calling me a hacker and my software a virus,” Kirkner reportedly said. “That’s the level of what these folks did.”

While this lawsuit has been filed on behalf of consumers, analysts are already wondering if a similar lawsuit is in the works on behalf of ISPs whose customer service departments have been working overtime to solve the problem.

4 Comments

  • installed wal-mart connect on feb 7, 2003 with result that no other applications which use modem will work. have been unable to correct after about 30 hours’ work. do not want to wipe hard drive and reinstall everything, but looks like only alternative. win 9x folder has Setup32 and Setup325 files. recommend win9x users not install or risk severe damage.

  • I AM an AOL user..I was having so many problems with AOL, I decided to try bellsouth and after subscribing to it I found out I could not use it..Now I know why..Thank you for posting this information..I AM continually getting kicked off AOL, and they tell me it is my line noise and other excuses, I have had my lines checked and my computer checked…there is nothing wrong in either place..I have spent many hours with online techs and on the phone with techs…each time it is something else…I AM not a happy camper…but I do not know which ISP to try…

    Thanks for the posting space….

  • I too was bitten by this bug. I use Prodigy as a DSL provider and then try to access AOL. Prodigy had to help me totally reconfigure to access AOL and it is still hit and miss and when AOL boots me it blames it on my DSL provider even though my DSL is running perfect. Who do I contact to become a part of this class action suit? Anyone know?? Please reply ASAP. [email protected] since I dont know how much longer AOL will let me access this article…. they pull access almost as soon as they appear 🙁

  • I have been having problems with my computer since installing 5.0. Who do I need to contact concerning the class-action lawsuit (I live in Mississippi)?

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