My letter to the WA State Attorney General.

9-6-07: Several links on this page don’t work but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Note to readers: AOL is denying subscribers easy access to their Cancel My Account page, in a pattern that clearly emerged when I published links to that page on websites beside my own: that’s why I wrote the following (this is a copy of the letter that I wrote to the Washington State Attorney General).

I am writing this as the author of the site, Marah’s AOL Log, at http://marahs-aol-log.livejournal.com/. I began my site in Dec. 2005 after a hard time canceling AOL as a way to vent my frustration with America Online. I enjoyed researching AOL for my site so much I soon expanded it into a full-fledged “one stop site” for how to cancel, uninstall, or complain about America Online. As part of my Site Map I began providing a direct link to a page on AOL.com called “Cancel My Account” starting this February, which provided all the phone and fax numbers and addresses to call or write to cancel America Online.

I kept the link on my site for about two weeks with no problems. I had my first problem with this link on March 8 after I posted it in this forum: http://forum.theispguide.com/ftopic1094-0-asc-15.html (user name MarahMarie) and in the comment section of this page, http://www.askdavetaylor.com/how_do_i_cancel_my_america_online_aol_account.html. These sites belong to other people and rank very high in Google searches for the terms “cancelling AOL.” The night after I published the link to AOL’s “Cancel My Account” page in these posts, AOL deleted all the info from their “Cancel My Account” page, as can be seen by clicking this link*, http://help.aol.com/help/search.do?cmd=displayKC&docType=ex&bbid=bb92&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhelp.channels.aol.com%2Fkjump.adp%3FarticleId%3D219764&dialogID=155910092.

Not to be intimidated by this obvious move on their part to keep this link to crucial “cancel contact info” off of the Web, I looked for and found another link to it on AOL.com, which I put on my website immediately. I left comments in the above mentioned sites again about the first page I linked to being deleted by AOL and mentioned the new link but said to visit my site to find it, because if I posted it on those web sites AOL might delete the new link’s page contents again. AOL deleted the information anyway within 24 hours of me posting the new link on my site only, as can be seen by clicking this link, http://help.aol.com/help/siteLoginUrl.jsp?url=loginfail&error=217&sitedomain=%20help.aol.com&authLev=1&siteState=en&locale=us.

I searched AOL.com for over a week after that–I think for 8 days altogether–without being able to find a link to their “Cancel My Account” page that wasn’t to one of the deleted pages. Not only that, their “Answer Wizard” which is their site search engine, and what I used to find both deleted pages in the first place, stopped working–coincidentally–most of the week in question.

I gave up and did a web search for a copy of AOL.com’s deleted page on anyone else’s website. I came up with this page, http://cc.uoregon.edu/cnews/winter2003/checkout.html, called “Checking Out of AOL” which had a partial quote of the page AOL deleted, along with a direct link to AOL’s “Cancel My Account” page: http://www.aol.com/nethelp/findinghelponaol.html. I tried this AOL link and it worked, so I had AOL’s “Cancel My Account” page back again. I copied this link to my site. The page content was again deleted from this link within 24 hours of posting it to my site; it was re-written by AOL into an “Help at AOL” Index page not long after. Obviously this was a work of spite, even at the cost of AOL denying their entire membership access to their “Cancel My Account” page. Anything to keep that link from being posted on the Web.

Around this time AOL.com’s “Answer Wizard” (their site search engine) began working again, so I typed “cancel” into it’s search box. Instead of it just taking me the “Cancel My Account” page the way it used to before the page was deleted three times, it took me to a series of dialog boxes where I had to answer multiple-choice questions about whether or not I really wanted to cancel, and why I wanted to cancel. I’m no longer a subscriber to AOL so I was nervous but I just played along with the dialog boxes, answering however made it likely I’d get the “Cancel My Account Page”; finally it popped up, after maybe three or four question and answer dialogs. This is the latest link to the “Cancel My Account Page”, which may have been deleted again by the time you read this letter: http://help.aol.com/help/mysupport/viewdocumentPopup.do?externalId=http–helpchannelsaolcom-kjumpadparticleId219764&sliceId=

The one lesson I learned from this is that AOL will delete the “Cancel My Account” page from any link that I publish, so I don’t display this newest link to their “Cancel My Account” page on my site; instead I copied the source-code for it onto a new page of my site, so in effect I’m mirroring their “Cancel My Account” page, which is the only way I can give my site visitors all the info they need from AOL.com. As I said, I can’t be made to give up too easily. For more of this story than what I can merely outline here, please read, http://marahs-aol-log.livejournal.com/12203.html [now at: https://intoolate.wordpress.com/2006/03/25/theres-one-page-aol-com-hopes-youll-never-find/], which is the article I wrote about AOL deleting their “Cancel My Account” page from AOL.com three times this March. The article is more illuminating and easier to read than this letter, maybe.

In the meantime I have some questions for the Washington Attorney General: I understand the agreement entered into between Washington and AOL in 1997 was voluntary on the part of AOL, but it did require that AOL make information on how to cancel their service “easy to find on the web.” The outline of the agreement between Washington and AOL can be read at this link: http://www.atg.wa.gov/releases/rel_aol_012997.html. I can tell you from my informal research, which I spend time on each week, that “how to cancel your account” info from AOL.com itself is not easy to find by doing a Google or any other search engine search. It is not easy to find by going onto AOL.com and poking around. The word “cancel” has been DELETED from the list of keywords at AOL Keywords: A-Z, as can be seen by clicking on this link, http://memberselfservice.aol.com/atoz/external/index.adp. This also breaks the wording of the agreement between AOL and Washington state: AOL must, according to the agreement, provide cancel info at the keyword “Cancel”, which now no longer exists.

Since the word “Cancel” has been deleted from the keyword list maintained by AOL.com, how many members will think to do what I did, and use AOL’s site search engine, the “Answer Wizard” to find AOL’s “Cancel My Account Page”? Not many people will think to use that. Thus AOL is not making it “easy” to find the info they need to cancel AOL, and they are “not making it easily findable on the Web”, so they are breaking the terms of their 1997 agreement with Washington state.

So what can be done about this? Can AOL be prosecuted by Washington state for breaking the 1997 agreement? The cancel contact info is becoming nearly impossible to find for average, run of the mill AOL subscribers who don’t know how to locate it; this is a serious problem for AOL subscribers who want to cancel their accounts.

Please respond as soon as possible to my concerns. This is crucial: AOL is making it much too difficult for customers to find their phone numbers, addresses, and fax numbers, along with other info they need to cancel America Online.

Sincerely,

Readers, if you support my letter please contact the Washington State Attorney General’s Office with this Contact Form. Thank you in advance.

Update 04-18-2006: The State Attorney General’s office contacted me yesterday. They gave me a link to file a formal complaint with their Consumer Affairs Division; now I’m waiting for the outcome.

Update 05-10-2006: AOL finally responded to my complaint. Read the conclusion: Thanks, Heidi, but I still hate everything about AOL.