The rumors flying around the blogosphere about the AIM Terms of Service are totally false.
“AOL does not read your private online communications when you use any of the communication tools offered as AIM Products. If, however, you use these tools to disclose information about yourself publicly (for example, in chat rooms or online message boards made available by AIM), other online users may obtain access to any information you provide.”
The second sentence of that same paragraph — and the related section of the AIM Terms of Service — is apparently causing the confusion. The related section of the Terms of Service is called “Content You Post” and, as such, logically and legally it relates only to content a user posts in a public area of the service.
If a user posts content in a public area of the service, like a chat room, message board, or other public forum, that information may be used by AOL for other purposes. One example of this might be a user who posts a “Rate a Buddy” photo and thus allows AIM to post it for other AIM users to vote on it. Another might be AOL taking an excerpt from a message board posting on a current news issue and highlighting it in a different area of the service.
Such language is standard in almost all similar user agreements, including those from Microsoft and most online news publications (MSN excerpted below). That clause simply lets the user know that content they post in a public area can be seen by other users and can be used by the owner of the site for other purposes.
Finally, there seems to be a misimpression that the change was recently made. In fact, the current AIM Terms of Service was last updated in February 2004 and has been in place for more than a year. The prior terms of service had very similar language reserving the same rights.
In short, AIM user-to-user communication has been and will remain private, the AIM TOS was not changed, and the TOS includes a standard clause on publicly posted material.
Spokesman, America Online
What’ll I do? I don’t know. The blogger hasn’t proposed a rebuttal to Mr. Weinstein yet. I suppose I won’t leave AIM, but simply because so many of my friends continue to use it. I’m going to make a Jabber account. If anybody else wants to follow suit by slowly ditching AIM and doing the same, then that’d be totally awesome.
Have you heard of Gaim? I don’t use the AIM client, since Gaim does that, plus MSN, Yahoo, IRC, Jabber, and a few others. Plus there’s no ads, and it’s open source. For me, I suppose it’d be seamless to use Jabber because Gaim connects to more than one anyway. (Contrary to what the Jabber site says, Gaim works on Windows as well.)