Monday, March 14, 2005

AIM Privacy and Slashdot

OK, I am getting tired of hearing about how "The new AIM TOS allows AOL to have all rights to anything you say on IM, AOL reads/stores all your IMs, etc."

I take this kind of personally, because that is not something I would want to be associated with.

First off, that blurb in the TOS only refers to AIM forum posts, not IMs. I agree that it is vague and should be reworded to be clear.
Second, the amount of IM traffic is on the order of hundreds of gigabytes a day. It would be very costly, and we have no desire to record all IM traffic. We don't do it.
Thirdly, if you still don't trust us, we have Direct IM (aka Send IM Image) and Secure IM in all recent versions of the AIM software. In other words, you can send your IMs in such a way that they never go through our servers, and/or are encrypted with industry-standard SSL and S/MIME technology. I know this since I designed these features. There are no backdoors; I would not have permitted any.

I am saying this as a concerned individual, and not as a corporate spokesperson..


dallendoug said...

So, will AOL be changing the language then?

I know that you personally probably have no control over that, but regardless of how well intentioned you or the whole bent behind this is, no one is going to "trust" AOL unless the legalese is changed.

AIM traffic may not be all stored and filtered, but there are AOL employees (past and present) who I've heard tell stories of policing chatrooms and other aspects of IM where they do monitor data, even if it's just seen by that employee and not kept.

I know it's an extreme case, but now an employee would be totally within their rights to allow the company to profit from any material they come across. Legal agreements need to be worded such that they cover cases where "That could never happen," as the internet has so many people interacting that eventually even the "could never happens" do.

juberti said...

I agree with you about the legalese. I would be surprised given the uproar if it weren't changed. I was just trying to point out that a) the system is not designed to facilitate this and b) those truly concerned have some options.

dallendoug said...

I think that most people who are that concerned will already be encrypting their traffic -- it's just the amazing disconnect between whoever drafted the legalese and what AOL seems to want as public perception. The precedent that affects tons of unwitting users is the potentially ugly part (and, obviously, public opinion, as AOL is now finding out the hard way).

Thanks for voicing your opinion from the "other side."

stareja said...


You certainly don't come off as a corporate mouthpiece. Your post was missing the PR fluff to be considered such. I also believe you when you way that the current wording does not reflect AOL's intentions. However, the wording is very clear about what it means, whether intended or not. Until that wording is changed, AOL is going to have problems convincing people that what they're saying in the TOS isn't what they mean.

The simplest way to fix this is to change the wording so that it exempts AIM IM conversations.

"I take this kind of personally, because that is not something I would want to be associated with. "

I wouldn't take it personally. It's not like you wrote the TOS. Anyway, it was interesting to read an "insider's" point of view on it.

xxsmiley8522xx said...

I have been forumteering in the past few days and a lot of talk have been about the new AIM TOS. It is a good thing that you clarified things. The TOS shouls be changed to properly state what is meant. Honestly, legally documents are what they say; and even though you may head AIM, it's the TOS word over yours, the lawers over yous.

Sounds dumb, and I do 100% believe what you say with no question, but the TOS needs to be changed.

Also, AOL forums being chat rooms, correct? I've seen it said elsewhere but I want to get your definition of AOL forums.

Another concern raised in these forums that are unhappy with the misinterpreted change is that the change will hurt your paid buisness. Will it or will it not? And yes, the previous person was right, you guys are learning the hard way about public opinion.

Sorry to be so harsh, but a lot of people take their privacy extremely seriously. I realise there is direct connect, incryption by AIM and by third parties, and other such efforts, but in reality it's the concept that really matters. It's us anti-patriot act liberals that you have to worry about ;) (just kidding, just kidding, lol)

Other than that, looking forward to the next versian and any changes to the TOS :)

juberti said...

"AIM Forums" refers only to web message boards about AIM, if I understand correctly. IMs, chat rooms, etc, should not be affected by this TOS.

I don't think a change in the TOS (to specifically exclude IM, etc) would hurt our paid business - as I said before, I don't think that part of the TOS was ever meant to apply to IMing and similar activities.

I understand that privacy is a serious matter, especially for something as widely used as AIM. I think we should have been a bit more careful in how we worded things, and I hope it will be rectified soon.

jskarzin said...

A lot of the immature hippies that preach the Slashdot faith are simply quick to jump on the band-wagon to "fight the man" that they view AOL as.  Every minor change or development decision that you make will be scrutinized with great care to represent your company as a heartless destroyer of all freedoms, and a similar action will be drawn from making even the slightest ToS modification.  I'm glad you finally debunked their naive knee-jerk reaction.  

agahran said...

Juberti wrote: "First off, that blurb in the TOS only refers to AIM forum posts, not IMs. I agree that it is vague and should be reworded to be clear."

I appreciate that you didn't write the TOS for AIM, and that you care very much about privacy and security.

That said, AOL (not you personally, AOL corporate) made the choice to include extremely broad wording in the AIM TOS that would (despite AOL's subsequent claims of intentions) indeed allow indiscriminate appropriate of rights to user's content.

It's understandable why a division of a major media corporation would attempt to grab content rights if they thought they could get away with it -- that behavior is pretty much par for the course in the media business. Unfortunately for AOL, in this case that turned out to be a gross misjudgement of what the market would bear.

I'm glad AOL is fixing the TOS. However, I doubt even that will undo the damage AOL has wrought upon itself here. There is too much competition in the online chat market, and AOL's main competitors apparently aren't attempting to grab content rights. AOL walked into this one, and it should have known better. Sorry.

- Amy Gahran

snatch said...

Glad to hear there are no backdoors. This journal rocks