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Freshness Warning
This article is over 18 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current. | Instant Messaging: Tear Down the Walls: "[AOL] consistently says [third-party AIM client] applications compromise the security of AOL’s own network by storing users' screen names and passwords beyond AOL’s control. That, however, doesn’t explain why the company still allows users of the long-defunct program Claris Emailer to retrieve their AOL mail remotely. Nor has AOL blocked every third-party IM program: Users of Odigo Inc.’s software have been able to access AOL’s network."

AOL also has two different IM proptocols. One is called OSCAR and is the one that the official AIM clients use. The other is TOC and is the protocol that AIM has opened up to allow FCC-mandated interoperability.

Clients that use the TOC protocol store the AOL screen name and password just like those that use OSCAR, but I don’t hear AOL saying that is a security risk. In fact, they designed it that way.

So why don’t third-party clients use TOC instead of butting heads with AOL over OSCAR? TOC is outdated and bug-ridden. It doesn’t support newer instant messaging features like file transfer, or even basic features like online status.

AOL doesn’t want third party apps connecting to AIM for a simple reason. If I can communicate with my AIM contacts without using AOL software, there is one less reason to use AOL. And there is one less thing that the vast AOL-TW empire has control over.

So next time you hear people discussing a company with dominant market share that is using predatory practices to prop up market share for another software package and squash competition, remember that they might not be talking about Microsoft.

February 19, 2002 7:09 AM

I am an avid Trillian user (, and I would assume this is what you're referring to. I sent AOL an email rationally complaining about this. When they had that big blocking MSN problem, the court told them they have to make their protocol accessible by third party applications. The stipulation though? The *next* version of the protocol. So they just will never upgrade. Gotta love loopholes. Incidently, AOL did reply to my email with a form email saying they're sorry that I'm having a connection problem, and I should call their free member service number for help.

Adam Kalsey
February 19, 2002 8:42 AM

I use Trillian on Windows and GAIM on Linux, and they both have had these sort of problems at one time or another. The interesting thing is that AOL doesn't seem to be able to block everything but AOL clients. They appear to have to block each client specifically. Odigio works fine right now, but Trillian doesn't. That itself is a horrible way to implement security. When designing a security solution, you deny everything first and then open up access to the specific things. If you do it the other way and leave yourself wide open but actively block unauthorized access, you are only protecting only against threats you know about.

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