Tech Bytes – Tid Bits in Tech News: Don’t like AOL’s Pop-up Ads? Don’t Switch ISPs, Sue!

In a court order dated June 20th, Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Fredricka Smith approved a multimillion dollar class-action lawsuit against America Online. The suit, filed on behalf of 2.5 million subscribers, contends that AOL’s “pop-up” advertisements unfairly charge hourly subscribers for the time their service is “blocked.”

Although subscribers can elect to disable pop-ups when they sign-up for service and immediately close the ad by clicking on the “no thanks” button, Miami trial lawyer, Andrew Tramont, believes such facts to be tangential to the issue at hand. Tramont explains that the process of disabling the pop-ups is “complex” and “once it’s disabled, it comes on automatically again after a certain period of time.” Tramont also points out, “If you have kids and they read slowly, or they read each ad, that time adds up.”

Tramont seeks between $15 and $20 million in compensatory damages and changes in AOL’s advertising practices. A Tramont-conceived online session would end with the message, “Do you want to look at our ads now? If so, you will be charged for the time spent doing so.” Tramont did not disclose how he arrived at the damage figure.

Although the absurdity of the case is clear to anyone who understands that consumers have the choice to disable the pop-up ads or switch to a different Internet Service Provider (ISP), it remains troubling that such a groundless case was allowed to proceed. Ranking as the world’s number one ISP with 23 million subscribers, AOL’s pop-up ads certainly don’t seem to be engendering the consumer dissatisfaction the class-action suit presumes. We will continue to watch the case closely and hope that consumers, and not the courts, will remain the sovereign authority concerning their Internet service.