CLARIFICATION: AOL Instant messenger users 'waive right to privacy'

Steve Malone
14 Mar 2005

AOL has contacted us to refute the claims that users' privacy was 'waived'

A spokesperson for the company said that the changes apply 'only to content posted on public spaces ... such as messageboards and public chatrooms'.

'We do not read member to member communication,' he reiterated.

He said the story had blown up from a 'misinterpretation' of comments made in a blog and that the changes in question were made more than a year ago.

He said that such terms were standard provisions for many websites and that it allows such sites to publish user reactions to news stories, for example. However, AOL would only reuse comments posted in areas of AOL that were already public. 'We do not read or monitor [personal chat],' he insisted.

The original story follows:

The terms and conditions for AIM allow AOL to reuse personal content for any purpose it wishes.

AOL has raised some eyebrows - to say the least - over licence changes to its AIM instant messaging service. Under the revised terms and conditions, AIM users 'waive the right to privacy' of their content which means that AOL can use that content - be it words, sounds or video and reproduce it in any way it sees fit.

The changes apply to all users who either registered for AIM services or downloaded AIM updates or software on or after February 5, 2004. Anyone who downloaded AIM prior to this or are part of the Netscape network are exempt.

Under the terms, while AOL concedes that AOL users own the content they may post via the service, AOL has the right to make use of that content in 'any compilation, collective work or other derivative work created by AOL using or incorporating this Content'. In addition, by agreeing to the licence AOL and its subsidiaries uses grant the rights to the company to 'reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this Content in any medium'. Neither is the content owner allowed to inspect or approve the uses to which that content might be made.

To avoid any doubt, the new Terms and Conditions state baldly 'You waive any right to privacy'.

At the time of writing, there is no word from AOL as to what it might mean for its business users. Although the company abandoned its IM for business product last year, it still promotes the AOL@Work product which offers things like voice conferencing to companies. Presumably, these corporations will be less than pleased if any of there sensitive material turns up in AOL marketing literature. Even so, many ordinary people use AIM to conduct private and often very personal conversations. They will be unhappy that AOL allows itself to monitor the traffic let alone reserve the right to broadcast it throughout the world.

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