"AOL wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants a family system that appeals to kids. It also wants to keep making money off the hot-chat crowd..."
That's what Robert Rossney wrote in 1995 -- as FBI agents raided the homes of over 125 AOL users in their investigation of child pornography tradin g. Two years later, nothing's changed. This time instead of the San Francisco Chronicle, it's 20/20, reporting on more lurid incidents involving AOL chat rooms. In response, AOL launched a PR offensive. Four nights in a row, AOL's welcome screen offer ed users a chance to hear from "CEO Steve Case on creating the safest online environment for our children."
Some feel their efforts are misplaced. "If AOL just put a percentage of the effort it makes to spin-doctor away its culpability for these problems into solving them, inexpensive and effective solutions could be found," one AOL watchdog has told the U.S. Congress. In fact, the service has been plagued by a long series of incidents involving minors. Earlier this year, AOL's own attorney was charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy.
Some of AOL's problems stem from a schism in their identity. After watching AOL, Rossney concluded AOL had "built a system that makes it easy for predators to operate, and has then turned around and aggressively marketed it to prey." AOL has argued that the existence of a "Parental Controls" feature shifts responsibility for safety to parents -- even though in June Steve Case's June conceded that 75% of AOL households with young children don't use them! But even with the controls activated, AOL's desir e to appeal to the "hot chat" led them to scatter risque content throughout the service -- all of it available to teeangers.
Whether its the sleazy, PG-13 erotica from AOL's World Wrestling Forum, or tantalizing images of Baywatch's Carmen Electra, AOL is determined to spice up their offerings -- while at the same time boasti ng that they're "Making the Internet Safe for Families." At least until someone notices. The Hub apparently removed this photo within days of the 20/20 story about AOL's problems with child safety.
Image appeared on "The Hub" even with Parental Controls set for "Teen Access".