AIM doesn't pwn j00?

Update: Basically the same thing has been said from Slashdot. However, in the update at the end of the Houston Chronicle, that still makes me wonder about the wording of the TOS. Does AOL cancel itself out? End update.

From America Online (AOL), Andrew Weinstein commented in Thrashing Through Cyberspace:

The rumors flying around the blogosphere about the AIM Terms of Service are totally false.

First and foremost, AOL does not monitor, read or review any user-to-user communication through the AIM network, except in response to a valid legal process. The AIM privacy policy (which is part of the AIM TOS) makes that crystal clear:

“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.

Andrew Weinstein
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.)

Let me know if you’re going to get Jabber, so I can add you to my contact list. At least we can have somewhat more secure communications there (which I’ll definitely refrain from having through AIM).

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Bryan Villarin

Bryan is a Community Guardian at Automattic. He's also a photographer, card magician, and cat whisperer. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Blythe for the sweet photo!)

7 thoughts on “AIM doesn't pwn j00?”

  1. Where was this statement made? To me, assuming it’s true, this solves the problem. The response completely clarifies and justifies the TOS. To be completely honest, I really don’t like AOL, but AIM is a good product. I’m not ready to ditch it just because one (seemingly false) blog entry set off a firestorm.

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  2. Cards: It’s stated in the comments section of the originating blog post.

    Chris: Nice, if I can convince people to check it out, I think it’d be very nice. I’ll have to post a screenshot to show where to put the info. The quick start docs on the Jabber website don’t show the steps for Gaim, so if I can’t find a guide elsewhere, I’ll try to type some up here.

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