Conspiracy theories about AOL are everywhere. A 1997 e-mail warned AOL was secretly snooping through every subscriber's hard drive! It triggered a panic among AOL users until it was proven to be a hoax. But in the year 2000 a lawsuit alleged AOL had started spying on users with the Netscape browser. Every time you download a .Zip or .Exe file with the browser, AOL is notified, the suit charges. Whether the privacy of users has been breached, the possibility certainly exists. AOL also owns ICQ, WinAmp, MusicMatch, and Netscape -- and they can adjust their software empire to suit their own purposes.

With this much power to control your online experience, it's surprising that so many AOL users are still dissatisfied. Some are concluding AOL just doesn't care. One consumer posted a long analysis of AOL's service, concluding that despite all their overt and covert programming expertise -- AOL is still a ripoff.