Around January 1999, this chain letter was spread around the Internet:

From a former AOL employee:

I'll try and cut through the crap, and try to get to the point of this letter.

I used to work for America Online, and would like to remain anonymous for that reason. I was laid off in early September, but I know exactly why I was laid off, which I will now explain:

Since last December, I had been one of the many people assigned to design AOL 4.0 for Windows (AOL 4.0 beta, codenamed Casablanca). In the beginning, I was very proud of this task, until I found out the true cost of it. Things were going fine until about mid-February, when me and 2 of my colleagues started to suspect a problem, an unexplainable 'Privacy Invasion', with the new version. One of them, who is a master programmer, copied the finished portion of the new version (Then 'Build 52'), and took it home, and we spent nearly 2 weeks of sleepless nights examining and debugging the program, flipping it inside-out, and here is what we found.

Unlike all previous versions of America Online, version 4.0 puts something in your hard drive called a 'cookie'. (AOL members click here for a definition). However, the cookie we found on Version 4.0 was far more treacherous than the simple Internet cookie. How would you like somebody looking at your entire hard drive, snooping through any (yes, any) piece of information on your hard drive. It could also read your password and log in information and store it deep in the program code. Well, all previous versions, whether you like it or not, have done this to a certain extent, but only with files you downloaded. As me and my colleagues discovered, with the new version, anytime you are signed on to AOL, any top AOL executive, any AOL worker, who has been sworn to secrecy regarding this feature, can go in to your hard drive and retrieve any piece of information that they so desire. Billing, download records, e-mail, directories, personal documents, programs, financial information, scanned images, etc. Better start keeping all those pictures on a floppy disk!

This is a totally disgusting violation of our rights, and your right to know as well. Since this is undoubtedly 'Top Secret' information that I am revealing, my life at AOL is pretty much over. After discovering this inform attain, we started to inform a few other workers at America Online, so that we could get a large enough crew to stop this from happening to the millions of unfortunate and unsuspecting America Online members. This was in early August. One month later, all three of us were unemployed. We got together, and figured there was something we had to do to let the public know.

Unemployed, with one of us going through a divorce (me) and another who is about to undergo treatment for Cancer, our combined financial situation is not currently enough to release any sort or article. We attempted to create a web page on three different servers containing in-depth information on AOL 4.0, but all three were taken down within 2 days. We were running very low on time (4.0 is released early this winter), so we figured our last hope to reveal this madness before it effects the people was starting something similar to a chain letter, this letter you are reading. Please do the following, to help us expose AOL for who they really are, and to help us and yourself receive personal gratification for taking a stand for our freedom:

  1. Forward this letter to as many people as you can (not just friends and family, as many as you can)!
  2. Tell people who aren't on America Online in person, especially important people (Private Investigators, Government workers, City Council)
  3. If the information about the new version isn't exposed by the time AOL is released early this winter, for your own protection, DON'T DOWNLOAD AOL 4.0 UNDER ANY CONDITION !!!
Thank you for reading and examining this information. Me and my colleagues hope that you will help us do the right thing in this situation.

Enjoy America Online (just kidding!).
Regards, A former AOL employee

Let me make this clear: Don't forward this to anyone, neither per mail, nor in any other way. The accusations in this mail have never been proven. But then, because of the complexity of the AOL client and the proprietary protocol it uses to communicate with the AOL host, all we have to know that this isn't true, is AOL's word for it:

I wish to bring to your attention the attached hoax letter that has been circulating on the Internet, making serious allegations about AOL 4.0. All of these allegations are false.

-- Tatiana Gau, Vice President of AOL Integrity Assurance
Does her title mean that she's in charge of assuring AOL members that AOL's integrity is not at stake?

Actually, there seems to be a phone home feature in the client, used for QA purposes.

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