OUTRAGEOUS AOL! It's arrogant, incompetent, and bureaucratic. It's deceptive. You can never reach it by phone.

Are we talking about a government agency? No, we're talking about America Online, winner of the August Outrage award for the private business that provides the best imitation of the government.

You know AOL--the company that blitzes you with marketing material, even when they don't have the infrastructure capacity to provide decent service to their existing customers. The company that unilaterally changes your service agreement, with or without your consent. The company that sold their subscribers' private information, such as phone numbers, to telemarketers, until the public Outrage forced them to back down.

Having angered its customers, AOL has recently turned its attention to its shareholders. Owners of AOL stock might wonder how their company is doing. Is AOL making money, even while provoking epic frustration among its users?

Who knows? You certainly won't find out by reading AOL's financial statements. Last week, AOL said that it had made a profit of $10.9 million for the fiscal quarter ending on June 30. But the SEC says that AOL didn't make ten million dollars--it LOST almost TWELVE million.

AOL has a history of "controversial" accounting. Contrary to industry practice, they capitalized, rather than expensing, marketing costs such as the continuous stream of diskettes you find in the mail. After enduring much criticism, AOL now expenses these costs.

AOL's shareholders may or may not be profiting from their investments. But we know one person for whom AOL is indisputably a money-maker: founder and chairman Steve Case was paid $27 million last year.

(Source: MSNBC.)

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