Subscribers Sue AOL, Charge Email Ads Are Unlawful

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Two AOL subscribers have brought a new lawsuit against the company for allegedly violating a federal privacy law by inserting ads in email.

Los Angeles residents Rande Bronster and Robert Nachshin quietly filed a complaint last week in the federal court in the central district of California alleging that such ads are unlawful under the federal Electronic Communications Act and California law. This case marks at least the second time that AOL's email ads have spurred a lawsuit.

An AOL spokesperson said the company disputes Bronster and Nachshin's factual allegations and legal claims.

AOL has offered free email accounts for almost three years, but Bronster and Nachshin pay the company for premium service -- which, they argue, should be ad-free. "Subscribers to AOL's paid email service pay a monthly fee, in part, to be free from the annoyance of ads strewn throughout their emails," they wrote in an April letter to a lawyer for AOL. In that letter, they asked AOL to refund all fees they had paid since March 2006, shortly after AOL began inserting ads into emails.

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Last year, AOL began allowing paying subscribers to opt out of the ad insertions, but Bronster and Nachshin allege that the company didn't proactively notify them they could refuse to carry the ads. They also allege that AOL doesn't inform subscribers that it will insert ads into the footers of their messages.

An AOL spokesperson said that paying members can easily opt out.

Bronster and Nachshin are represented by the law firm Kabateck Brown Kellner, known for suing Google and Yahoo for click fraud. The firm achieved a multimillion-dollar settlement from Yahoo and participated in a $90 million settlement from Google.

In the case against AOL, the lawyers seek to represent all subscribers who have paid the company for an account since February 2006. They are also asking for monetary damages and an injunction against AOL.

The Bronster/Nachshin action is the second lawsuit against AOL for inserting ads into email footers. Last year, California resident Frank Cecchini also brought a potential class-action lawsuit against AOL. That case is still going forward.

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