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AOL forces friends on AIM customers

Search portal drops two shopping 'bots' into buddy lists of AIM users, raising hackles of many.

Users of instant messaging services have traditionally been allowed to act as sole gatekeeper of their buddy lists. But that may be changing, as American Online inserted two robotic buddies into AIM lists Thursday.

AOL informed AIM customers that it had added a "ShoppingBuddy" and another bot for Moviefone to buddy lists overnight. The AIM bots are automated software programs that will send preprogrammed responses to questions. Users can send an instant message to their new ShoppingBuddy for gift ideas and ask Moviefone about show times.

That the services may be helpful wasn't enough to assuage some AIM fans. Blogs and message boards were filled with complaints from users who called the move an "intrusion" and "uncool."

Calls to AOL representatives were not immediately returned.

"The first thing I did was delete them," said one post on, a community site for advertising professionals. "I don't need some 'shopping buddy' to automatically add themselves and promote buying over their network. Someone missed the ethics boat on this one."

AOL provided a means for customers to easily delete the bots, and in an interview with the Associated Press, an AOL representative told the news service that the company was attempting to solicit feedback about the service. The representative also said the response to the bots had been mixed.

Other companies have irked customers by adding unsolicited applications to their instant messaging services. In September, many users of Yahoo's IM system were unhappy that downloading the latest upgrade meant they were forced to accept a search toolbar, desktop shortcuts and other extras.