How Google’s New Privacy Policy Will Affect You While You Use AOL

Yesterday on my other blog I asked readers an odd question: “How will Google’s new all-in-one privacy policy affect people who use AOL’s search engine, since it’s “enhanced by Google”?” It’s a question no one’s asked – nor answered before. Without waiting for a response, I fired off two emails: one to AOL’s Privacy Team, the other to Google’s*. My email to AOL is as follows:

To whom it may concern,

I run an informational blog about AOL and am politely requesting an official response to the question, “How does Google’s new privacy policy affect users of AOL’s Google-enhanced search?” Are AOL users (especially those signed into AOL when they perform searches) subjected to Google’s new one-for-all privacy policy, which went into effect on March 1, 2012 and is described by Google here: http://www.google.com/intl/en/policies/privacy/?

If so, in what ways exactly are AOL users affected by Google’s policy changes?

Specifically, if an AOL user signs into AOL, for example, with the handle aoluser@aol.com while also signed into Google as, for example, googleuser@gmail.com, then conducts searches on AOL’s search engine, does Google collect information on aoluser@aol.com’s searches and tie them to googleuser@gmail.com’s account?

Any and all information you can impart on this important topic is appreciated. Thanks in advance for your time in this matter.

Sincerely,
Ms. M. Marie

And this is how AOL responded (with added emphasis my own):

Dear Ms. Marie,

Thank you for your inquiry about how AOL Search enhanced by Google may be impacted by Google’s privacy policy update. Currently, users who visit AOL owned and operated properties or use AOL products (such as AIM, Winamp, AOL Editions, etc.) are not affected by Google’s recent privacy changes, as AOL does not share individual user data with Google. Searches performed through AOL Search are transmitted to Google through an AOL-managed proxy. During this process, unique identifiers (including personally-identifiable information, cookie IDs, AOL usernames, email addresses, full IP addresses, etc.) are removed by the proxy before being submitted to the Google search API. AOL users that choose to consume Google products (e.g. Gmail, Google Toolbar, Google Maps, etc.) while connected to the Internet via the AOL software will be affected by Google’s privacy changes – just as they would be with any other Internet Service Provider.

We are committed to continuing to work closely with Google to ensure we are providing transparency to users of AOL Search. As AOL continues to innovate and develop new products and features, including functionalities from other service providers, we are committed to providing appropriate information and options to our users. Please visit http://privacy.aol.com for the most up to date information and options for the treatment of your AOL information.

Should you have further questions regarding AOL’s collection and use of information, please feel free to contact us at this email address [privacy@aol.com].

Regards,
AOL Privacy Team

In plain English, I think what AOL means is: it doesn’t matter if you’re signed into AOL or Google (or both) when you use AOL search, because all data transmitted by AOL to Google 1) goes through AOL’s proxy servers first, which strips out most of your IP address (and stripping out your IP address, folks, is good, because Google also collects info on you based solely on the IP address you search and use Google on, without even signing in!) and 2) your data is so anonymized by the time it gets from AOL’s proxy servers back to Google’s machines that no one at Google could reliably tie it to your AOL or Google account, anyway.

So now you know that using AOL Search (“enhanced by Google!”) is nearly as good at protecting you from Google’s new privacy policy – which is seen by vast swaths of the Internet as highly intrusive and not privacy-enhancing at all – as searching Google without signing in using any proxy you’ll find on Proxy.org (which is like, a whole list of proxies, dudes…seriously, check them out).

*Google has not yet responded to my request for clarification.

Wow, Internet: hi. Yes indeed: AOL’s Classic home page is gone again.

If you know where the damn page is this time, let us know – leave a comment!

It’s perfectly bizarre to check your stats maybe once a month like I do and expect to see the normal 100-200 visitors a day but instead see there’s been almost 1600 – in under 36 hours. I mean, I don’t even update this thing. Even more bizarre? Looking at both referrer and search term stats, I can’t figure out where the heck ya’ll are coming from, but I’m uh…in shock that you went and found me, regardless.

Missing in action: an entire AOL home page. Whoops!

AOL Classic home page: missing in action - again!

It’s suddenly become as contagious as a rash for people to find AOL’s Classic home page, so, to judge by my stats, which are positively smothered in search terms such as “aol classic”, “classic aol homepage”, “http://www.aol.com/?backtoclassic”, “aol classic homepage”, “http://www.aol.com/?src=classic”, “back to classic aol homepage”, and “aol.com-classic”, I’ll assume that’s what most of you are after.

Here, let me make it easier on ya’ll – you’re welcome!

The AOL Classic home page is gone. Yessiree. Again. In honor of the amount of visits I’m getting – 125 an hour, which is a lot for this stupid blog – I’ve looked around the wild and wooly interwebs figuring it’s somewhere (and knowing AOL’s devs, it’s either live or on their Intranet, but still kickin’ around) but I can’t find a working link to it just yet. AOL waved their super-secret magic wand to make go poof! sometime yesterday, August 25th, according to Google’s last cache of aol.com, but put no new link in place that anyone can find to restore the Classic look for their apparently very loyal users.

FYI: this link will no longer give you the Classic look: http://www.aol.com/?src=classic. The link works, but brings you to that artsy-fartsy bullshit AOL has in place now. I even ran the link through this tool to make sure there were no cloaked 301 redirects in place, but there’s not. The only redirect AOL has in place is for the non-www version of that page, which permanently points to the www version. If anyone knows how to get to AOL’s Classic home page, please let us know!

People. For the last time, I DO NOT work for AOL.

I’m shocked any of you can look at this blog and think someone at AOL runs it. Just to re-state the obvious: I do not work for AOL. I’ve never worked for AOL. No one at AOL writes or consults for this blog. I cannot cancel, delete, remove, modify, upgrade, edit, fix or destroy anything in your AOL account for you. Is that clear enough? Holy crap, I don’t think it is.

In case anyone with a brain (which obviously isn’t most of you) finds this post and wonders what I’m flailing about now, just check out a few of the more recent comments, then remind me quick why I own this blog before I File 13 the entire thing:

Hi I just wanted to let you know that I have enjoyed being a aol costumer. But I have a new computer and lost my job have to down size my bills.I am disconnecting my land line phone so I changed my e-mail address. Can you transfer EVERYTHING from my aol acc. to my new e-mail address and that is smluiz@comcast.net my contacts,e-mails,pictures ect. Thank-you so very much. Also please e-mail me so I know you got this. Thanks again

[original]

Sue Luiz

Extra flailing points to Suzy for posting her email; publishing email addresses in this space will get you spammed. Yeah, I could edit them out, because this is WordPress, where I can do anything I want, including re-write the comments in Swahili – but it’s not my job to look out for you. That’s your job.

Here’s another classic “Let the spammers have at me” moment:

I would like to cancel aol account (choclab24@aol.com) because I got many scammers in my aol so I got other screen name so can u remove choclab24 pls

[original]

Or how ’bout this one? Kudos for pen-and-ink letter composition, but no points for wasting that letter on me:

Dear AOL Team,

I have AOL mail a/c and I find at times some mails are sent from my mail Id without my knowledge. These stray mails are not sent by me. Please let me know how can I cancel my AOL mail a/c.

Regards,

RG Bhat

Bangalore

INDIA

[original]

Goddamn it, people, I do not work for AOL.

I think AOL’s cancel and support reps look for sites that focus on AOL, then tell their members to check us out so they won’t have to help anyone themselves. People could not really be this stupid otherwise, could they?

Hi AOL, Primcapital.com seems to be hijacking/mirroring the entire AOL.com site!

Oh, boy, how one thing always leads to another, especially with AOL.

Tonight a reader asked how to access the AOL Classic home page (the answer is you can’t, because AOL Classic is gone).

Once that was sorted out (I told her to use http://netscape.aol.com instead – it’s ugly, but it’s basically the same thing), I tied up a few other loose ends on this blog, then – you know how I always get bored – so I usually go trawling through search engines to see what trouble I can find, since trouble doesn’t bore me? OK.

So tonight I’ve won the “un-bored” jackpot. Using the search terms (with quotes, exactly as you see it) ["aol" "back to classic" "developer network"] – which were two links at the bottom of the AOL Classic home page] I got this as the third result: http://www.primcapital.com/default_003.html.

Clicking the Prim Capital link takes you to an identical copy of the AOL Classic home page. Every link you click on that page brings you to another hijacked AOL page on Prim Capital’s servers. Curious as to whether AOL owns Prim Capital or not, I looked it up and, nope, apparently not!

But that’s where my gumshoeing stops. I have got to get to bed!

Have fun, AOL – I wash my hands of this little phishing attack or whatever it is you have going on with the Prim Capital people (but if I owned AOL, whoever runs Prim Capital wouldn’t be able to say their names without speech synthesizers by tomorrow morning – just sayin’).

Oh, and if you’re a reader who uses AOL? PLEASE DO NOT VISIT THE PRIM CAPITAL SITE. IT IS NOT AOL! YOU MAY GET PHISHED OR GET YOUR IDENTITY STOLEN! HERE BE DRAGONS! ETC.

8 Myths About AOL

There are lots of stories going around about AOL lately. Let’s clear some of them up.

  1. Myth #1: AOL no longer sells dial-up access.
    False. AOL still sells dial-up and BYOA (Bring-Your-Own-Access). The good news is, AOL is down to 4 million subscribers from an all-time high of 25 million subscribers in 2005, with more subscribers fleeing each month.
  2. Myth #2: AOL does nothing but provide dial-up and BYOA access.
    False. AOL does much more. AOL recently thought it was an ad company, but now thinks it’s a media company. Access is something AOL doesn’t “focus” on anymore, because most of AOL’s customer service and tech support calls are handled by employees in India, and the infrastructure for dial-up practically runs itself.
  3. Myth #3: AOL still blankets the US with CDs.
    False. AOL does limited distribution of CDs by bundling them with Dex phone books or by sending them to certain bloggers, but other than that, the days of waiting breathlessly for your next coaster are over.
  4. Myth #4: The name “AOL” is now written out as “Aol.”.
    False. The new “Aol.” moniker is a prime example of “branding”, like how I changed my blog’s name a few years ago, to improve my, um, “brand”. I’d prefer if you call my blog “Anti-AOL” now, but if you still call it “Marah’s AOL Log”, that’s OK, too. It wasn’t a legal name change, and neither was AOL’s. You can write its name out however you want. I prefer “AOHell” and “Aolol”, myself.
  5. Myth #5: “Aol.” is a meaningless brand meant to catch your eye and nothing more.
    Well, yeah. But, no, not technically speaking. False. Supposedly, when you choose Aol., you choose the best brand for your lifestyle. (I know…the whole idea makes me sick, too.) So you don’t visit a blog on AOL; you visit “blog.Aol.” Adding the “Aol.” appendage makes you seem smarter and cooler (or, if you’re old school, l33t3r) than the rest of us.
  6. Myth #6: “Aol.” is pronounced…differently, so how do you pronounce it?
    False. You pronounce it the same way.
  7. Myth #7: It is still impossible, damn it, to cancel your AOL account.
    False. You can cancel your paid or free AOL account simply by filling out the online cancel form, unless you live in Washington, DC (AOL programmers forgot to let the District of Columbia in on the magic).
  8. Myth #8: I can cancel your AOL account for you, if you just leave me a comment anywhere on this blog saying something snotty like, “Do away with my service”.
    Hello people, let’s get real: I can’t do that, OK? But the good news is, I think these people can.