Discussing the internet in "Virtual Communities," Howard Rheingold wrote "it is still possible for people around the world to make sure this new sphere of vital human discourse remains open to the citizens of the planet". Rheingold added that peop le had to act "before the economic big boys...seize it, censor it, meter it, and sell it back to us."

"Where's the money?" Ted Leonsis barked at a technology symposium. Two conference attendees watched in horror as AOL's President of Services belittled his service's internet counterpart s. "These aren't websites," he railed, "these are gravesites!" Like Time magazine, AOL has a large stake in positioning itself as a content-provider for a mass audience--and marginalizing its competition. "We are the internet", Leonsis told an interviewer.

Though hedging that AOL is "bandwidth-constrained," Leonsis elaborated on a strategy Wired magazine called "co-opting the internet": stashing internet Web pages within AOL's metered offer ings. "We didn't pay for that content," Leonsis bragged. "We get somebody else's content for free. I didn't have write a check..." Steve Case, AOL's President, has even announced his intention to "leverage marketing and packaging skills" to accelerate "the commercialization of the Internet."

"We think it would be good if the IRS would on your tax form just have a checkoff box, 'Do you currently subscribe to AOL,'"
Case joked at the National Press Club in March, "and if you don't, we'll send you the disk and we can eliminate a lot of duplication and waste."

But a belief that "Information wants to be free" has motivated hackers since before AOL existed. Despite massive influxes of cash, a community of technology lovers may hope that the flood of newcomers can be dissuaded from enriching the pockets of the encroaching commercial giant...

Hacker activities are skirmishes in a war with colonialists:

In June of 1995, Chip Douglas of AOL's Terms of Service told his staff, "Many times we (AOL) are caught between a rock and a hard place debating over the importance of our 'community' while still trying to be as open to new members as possible, and NOT scare them away with needless (?) warnings about PW scammers, etc."

On April 14, AOL was forced to reverse their policy and change their system to display the following at the bottom of every instant message.

Reminder: AOL staff will never ask you for your password or billing information. :)

Hackers have been so successful in terrorizing AOL's new-user base that AOL had to implement specific changes to try to fight them.

It became known that AOL's marketing concerns took precedence over known security threats. Last July a transcript of an internal AOL meeting was posted to Usenet in which the company's Vice President Kathy Ryan told staffers, "we understand that our aggressive distribution of both software and certificates can result in 'throwaway' accounts. W e have made the business decision that the benefits in this case outweigh the disadvantages.

On March 5, hackers created a Web page sounding the alarm on other technological deficiencies in AOL's security. Intent on covering up their weaknesses, AOL legal immediately contacted the page, complaining that the images of their internal software cons tituted "copyright infringement". In true internet spirit, the hackers refused to buckle, and to this day continue displaying "the truth about AOL" at multiple Web sites.

  • Insights from AOHell's documentation
  • More: AOL4FREE's documentation
  • AOL ignored hacker warnings
  • Internet World on AOHell
  • Boardwatch on AOHell
  • The free-trial disk connection
  • Amazing Stories: hacker posts to alt.aol-sucks
  • Hackers or AOL? Mike Royko on an amazing AOL letter.
  • Hacker Riot! News story on the 70-hacker attack on AOL.
  • "AOL vs. AOHell" article in The Net.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle on AOL's hacker problems.
  • More developments from the San Francisco Examiner on AOL's hacker problems

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