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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Class Claims AOL Has a ‘Dirty Little Secret’

LOS ANGELES (CN) - AOL charges elderly customers as much as $17 a month for outmoded dial-up service and free email accounts they no longer use, a former customer claims in a federal class action.

Harvey Dunn, 76, an AOL customer for 10 years, accuses the company of unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and violations of state consumer laws.

AOL never told millions of elderly "not tech-savvy" customers that it was no longer charging for content and email services, Dunn says in the lawsuit. He claims AOL charged him $17.95 per month even after he switched to a broadband Internet service through Time Warner and was no longer using dial-up. He has canceled his AOL account.

Dunn claims that AOL lists "AOL Service" on its bills, "recklessly perpetuating the illusion that paying subscribers are still receiving and using the same service they signed up for."

"AOL is well aware that the vast majority of its paying customers are not using its nearly obsolete 'dial-up' services, and misunderstand what they are paying for," the complaint states. "AOL's technology allows it to easily tell which of its paying customers are using AOL's dial-up ISP services. AOL knows that plaintiff, and millions of other consumers have absolutely no use for their paid accounts, or AOL dial-up service they do not need and are not using."

AOL became one of the most popular Internet service providers in the country in the 1990s, with half of Americans subscribing for a flat fee of $19.95 a month, Dunn says in the complaint.

In 2006, AOL unbundled its content and email services and offered them for free to compete with the likes of Google and Yahoo!.

But AOL kept "paying customers in the dark," Dunn claims, because subscription services still make up 30 percent of the company's revenue.

Within the tech industry and at AOL it is well known that the company is "recklessly exploiting its paying customers," Dunn claims.

He cites a 2011 New Yorker interview with a former AOL executive who reportedly told the magazine: "'The dirty little secret ... is that seventy-five per cent of the people who subscribe to AOL's dial-up service don't need it.'"

He seeks damages, restitution, costs and an injunction, for customers who paid for services they did not need for at least three consecutive months.

He is represented by David Azar of the Milberg law firm.

AOL did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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