AIM owns you.
March 13, 2005 1:44 PM   Subscribe

"You waive any right to privacy." AOL has just updated the terms of service for Instant Messanger, which include agreeing to the new requirement that AOL owns everything you write, has the right to reproduce it at will, and that you waive all requirements for prior approval to do so.
posted by XQUZYPHYR (72 comments total)
 
Otherwise known as the last nail in AOL's coffin.
posted by Quartermass at 1:49 PM on March 13, 2005


They did this for Instant Messenger, too. Me spell checks gud.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:49 PM on March 13, 2005


Well... I guess I'm finally leaving AOL IM. Man, they better not try and take my name.
posted by Neosamurai85 at 1:55 PM on March 13, 2005


More from the original source@ http://www.benstanfield.com/thrash/ :

More on the AIM Terms of Service
AOL is trying to get businesses to sign up and actually pay them for it's AIM@Work offerings with the same Draconian Terms of Service I discussed in my last post.

AIM@Works is really nothing more than some add-on tools to the regular AIM client. One lets you reserver a domain (like Apple does with @mac.com addresses) for a monthly fee. Another enables Outlook address book syncing. All of this is on top of what AIM is really good at, normal text chatting.

So they're encouraging businesses to use AIM to discuss details of their business correspondence, even to sync their Outlook contact and calendar files, which, according to their TOS, AOL then has the right to publish in any way they see fit, including, among other things, providing that information to business competitors.

I'd be pretty damn leery of using AIM@Work for any kind of business.


Yeah, right. I can't imagine the lawsuits if AIM tries to highjack any 'work secrets' shared through their service.

I don't use AOL. I don't really use AIM, but some friends do, so I have them on my buddy list on Trillian.

I think I'll encourage those few AIM users to reconsider.
posted by Corky at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2005


8!N_L4D3N: looks like we have to go back to carrier pigeon =(

saddam_rulez: :(
posted by bmr at 2:06 PM on March 13, 2005


I'm using Trillian. I never explicitly agreed to any of this. Is this at all enforceable?
posted by maschnitz at 2:07 PM on March 13, 2005


What would they possibly do with this information?
posted by etaoin at 2:09 PM on March 13, 2005


(as long as you use a nom-de-plume and adopt a fictitious online personality, you should be ok...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:09 PM on March 13, 2005


Use Trillian's secure IM feature, and you've got nothing to worry about, right? All AOL sees is a bunch of encrypted gibberish, no?
posted by afx114 at 2:11 PM on March 13, 2005


From the article: AOL has created a basic expectation of privacy, while secretly sticking in their legal documents that there isn't any.
I'm not sure how secret it is. You know, being right there in the TOS and all. However, I certainly never read those things and think that AOL sucks for doing this.
posted by PhatLobley at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2005


This douche bag needs to read the Privacy Policy, specifically incorporated into the TOS. From the Privacy Policy:
Your AIM information may be shared within AOL and its business divisions. Your AIM information will not be shared with third parties unless it is necessary to fulfill a transaction you have requested, or in other circumstances in which you have consented to the sharing of your AIM information. AIM or AOL may use your AIM information to present offers to you on behalf of business partners and advertisers. These business partners and advertisers receive aggregate data about groups of AIM users, but do not receive information that personally identifies you.

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.

Your AIM information, including the contents of your online communications, may be accessed and disclosed in response to legal process (for example, a court order, search warrant or subpoena), or in other circumstances in which AOL has a good faith belief that AIM or AOL are being used for unlawful purposes. AOL may also access or disclose your AIM information when necessary to protect the rights or property of AIM or AOL, or in special cases such as a threat to your safety or that of others.
What's more, the license contained in the "draconian" passage quote by Mr. Douche Bag covers not just the content of your AIM messages, but messages posted on various boards operated by AOL. If AOL does not have a license to the content it transmits and/or displays on it's boards, how exactly is it expected to operate?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2005


So does that mean the opinions and views I express on AIM are now AOL's views and opinions? AOL is rife with libel!

(But seriously, doesn't this mean whatever is said on AIM is AOL-Time-Warner? That all copyright infringement is in fact, AOL-Time-Warner's?)
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:14 PM on March 13, 2005


Wow, this is a very bad idea on AOL's part. Like a capitally stupid idea. Time to dump AIM.

Thanks XQUZYPHYR. This should be shouted loudly from the rooftops. And it makes me wonder how many other terms of service have those kinds of things buried in them.
posted by fenriq at 2:14 PM on March 13, 2005


Monju:
Well, at a laundromat's bulletin board, who owns the content?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:17 PM on March 13, 2005


You do, just as you own the content you transmit via an AIM product, as expressly knowledged by the AOL TOS.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:21 PM on March 13, 2005


This is pretty clearly evil, but if they used the chat logs to create an AIM L4m3r of The Day site that would be awesome. Well, awesomely evil at least.

On preview: *reads monju's posts; calls broker to sell torch and pitchfork futures*
posted by boaz at 2:29 PM on March 13, 2005


Ok, so AOL Instant Messenger has gone too far. How does one go about closing up their account with them, and where is the best IM service(s) to use instead? I’m trying to keep my IM name if I can.
posted by Neosamurai85 at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2005


Uh, "acknowledged."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2005


On a practical level, how the hell would AOL actually log, store, and pull any useful information? It's just text but we're talking terabytes upon terabytes of data.

Thanks for clearing that up monju_bosatsu, I did not like the idea of trying to convert my friends off AIM. Since people don't seem to be reading the whole thing, I'll repeat you:

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.
posted by tweak at 2:35 PM on March 13, 2005


It's widely rumoured AOL logs all AIM traffic. (Tweak: it's not that much data). I believe it's been reported at least once that Yahoo Messenger provided IM logs in response to subpoena, although I can't find a reference right now. AT&T Wireless has also provided SMS logs in response to subpoena, four months after the messages were sent.

I know it's tiresome to keep hearing this, but if you're communicating via someone else's servers you should assume they may eavesdrop on you. Trillian's end to end encryption does a good job of protecting you. The fact we still don't have something similar for email is one of the greatest failures of the privacy movement.

Still, this AOL ToS change lowers the bar quite a bit. Now there doesn't even need to be law enforcement interest. I wonder if AOL was expecting if anyone would notice? I wonder what the internal discussion about this is like?
posted by Nelson at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2005


I look forward to better content on both AOL and Time Warner now that they have higher quality sources. ROTLF.
posted by srboisvert at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2005


AOL has never been good with privacy-- ...Navy investigators illegally obtained his confidential email account information from America Online, leading the military to conclude that McVeigh was gay. ... (this is back in the 90s)
posted by amberglow at 2:43 PM on March 13, 2005


Use IRC, establish a direct* connection to your correspondent's computer.

*direct in that it doesn't go through a chat server. Like all other internet communications, it probably goes through any number of relays, so encrypt also.

Oh, and encrypt any private communications.
Oh, and encrypt any private communications.
Oh, and encrypt any private communications.
posted by orthogonality at 2:51 PM on March 13, 2005


I fail to see how AOL requires this license to operate. What exactly do they want to do with AIM messages that requires this license or waiving any right to privacy? They certainly do not need it for basic operation. They claim the right to use your postings to make derivative and compilation works. What kind? That would seem contrary to the privacy policy. Are they going to publish the "Best of AIM?"
posted by caddis at 2:53 PM on March 13, 2005


The fact we still don't have something similar for email is one of the greatest failures of the privacy movement.

But, we do have this for e-mail in the form of PGP or gpgp, with plugins for all the popular (and even not-so-popular) mail clients out there. The problem, however, is in adoption, exactly as is the problem with AIM encryption plugins.

Only once have I communicated with a friend through an encrypted AIM session, and that was because we were both linux geeks trying out the latest gAIM build and the great gAIM-Encryption plugin. It would have been impossible for me to communicate with any other person through an encrypted session. Likewise, I'm fully capable of receiving encrypted e-mail right now, go ahead, look up my key on the MIT keyserver, it's there... attached to the e-mail address in my profile. Send me something encrypted, it'll be fun.

But, of course, it's not at all widely used. People don't understand the purpose, so they see no reason to use it. The only chance of having encryption widely adopted will be when it gets put completely behind the scenes, much like SSL is now for people who shop online, but of course this comes at a cost, and it would be oh-so-much-nicer if the reasons behind this could be more clearly explained.
posted by odinsdream at 3:02 PM on March 13, 2005


The following terms and conditions apply to all users who either registered for AIM services or downloaded AIM updates or software on or after February 5, 2004

Luckily, I registered my screenname in 2003 and don't feel the need to change every few months.
posted by Lusy P Hur at 3:20 PM on March 13, 2005


AOL can have my "OMG ROFL" when they pull it from my cold dead hands.
posted by drezdn at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2005


odinsdream, you're right. Nerds like you and me who've heard of PGP (or GPG, and be sure not to get the wrong version, and..) and know about MIT keyservers and who like installing plugins into their email clients may possibly be able to exchange encrypted email. I even did it once!

But that's not the same as having ubiquitous, easy, end to end email encryption. Compare the PGP/GPG nightmare to how Trillian's encrypted communication works. Trillian requires no setup. If both of us are using Trillian, we encrypt. True, the lack of secure key exchange means man-in-the-middle attacks are easier, but that's a tradeoff I'll live with. Skype has equally usable encryption for voice communication.

We don't have something similar for email. The closest thing in ease of use is ESMTP's encrypted mode, and I still can't even make that much work. And that's server to server, not client to client.

It's been at least twelve years since cypherpunks started and nine years since free s/wan started. Both groups have not had nearly the impact they want to. I think the main problem is the cryptonerds aren't usability nerds.
posted by Nelson at 3:34 PM on March 13, 2005


Encrypted email: We (DoD) use it all the time, and I'm hardly a spook. I'm gonna send some to odinstream tomorrow, when I'm at work. But, yeah, it is hardly 'easy to use/configure.'
posted by fixedgear at 3:53 PM on March 13, 2005


So... If I host a ripped Time Warner film on AOL webspace, that film belongs to them and hasn't been stolen.
Plus anything illegal or libellous I say is also their responsibility.
This does sound like a stupendous stupid idea.
posted by seanyboy at 3:57 PM on March 13, 2005


No, seanyboy, where on earth did you get that idea?

Just read what it says in the article: Although you or the owner of the Content retain ownership of all right, title and interest in Content that you post to any AIM Product, AOL owns all right, title and interest in any compilation, collective work or other derivative work created by AOL using or incorporating this Content.

Nothing in there about assuming responsibility or making stolen content legal.
posted by sour cream at 4:18 PM on March 13, 2005


caddis said: I fail to see how AOL requires this license to operate. What exactly do they want to do with AIM messages that requires this license or waiving any right to privacy? They certainly do not need it for basic operation. They claim the right to use your postings to make derivative and compilation works. What kind? That would seem contrary to the privacy policy. Are they going to publish the "Best of AIM?"

There are two components here: (1) the license to user content, and (2) the privacy policy.

First, the license. The lawyers who drafted the TOS believe that when AIM receives user-created content, it creates a derivative work by transforming the text into a message transmitted to the receiver, whether it be the user on the other end of an AIM chat or an AIM message board. Whether that understanding of the way AIM works in terms of intellectual property law may or may not be technically correct, it is certainly not an unreasonable understanding of what's going on. Without a license, at least in the understanding of the lawyers who drafted the TOS, AIM cannot republish content provided by users.

Second, the privacy policy. Although the TOS say that users waive any right to privacy, the TOS and the Privacy Policy incorporated therein make clear that this isn't actually the case. If I was drafting the TOS, I probably wouldn't have included that line, as it clearly has a tendency to stir shit up and generally doesn't mean anything. Nonetheless, the Privacy Policy makes clear that AOL does not in fact read your private messages, and does not provide user-identifiable content to third parties, unless required by law.

The sky is not falling.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:20 PM on March 13, 2005


Luckily, I registered my screenname in 2003 and don't feel the need to change every few months.

Newb :) I registered mine sometime back in 1997/1998. I also don't understand these people who feel the need to change their name all the time.

Plus, it makes block lists less effective.

As far as an ontopic comment... I'm not surprised. I wonder if the government didn't pressure AOL into this (and I don't consider myself a big anti-government conspiracy buff). At least AOL is open about what they are doing. How many webboards, irc servers, etc do you guys participate on where you know the admins aren't reading your PM's? I happen to be a member of one board where an admin has acknowledged browsing through other's PM's. This doesn't bother me... it's their server after all.

I just assume that most everything I do on the internet is watched by someone. There are very few places on the internet where I have an expectation of privacy. And if I want to do something in private, then I encrypt it. No problem... and I won't be abandoning my AOLIM account.
posted by sbutler at 4:30 PM on March 13, 2005


Transmitting a message does not create a derivative work, as is technically interpreted by IP law. When you create an AIM message that is an original work. If I take your message and change it that is a derivative work. If I take it and mix it with a bunch of others that is a compilation. Who needs to change an AIM message. The closest thing to a derivative work would be a reposting of the original message, as you just did, followed by a comment. That is not really a derivative work because it is a direct copy. Frankly, I think the AOL lawyers have more nefarious plans in mind (although the sky is not falling).
posted by caddis at 4:31 PM on March 13, 2005


BTW, I don't think the AIM license is well drafted. It is overbroad and vague, which leads inevitably to shit storms like this. A more limited and more detailed license which provides the user with a better understanding of what AIM intends to do with its license would be more appropriate. Yahoo, for example, has a more limited license, although they provide the same services as AIM:
8. CONTENT SUBMITTED OR MADE AVAILABLE FOR INCLUSION ON THE SERVICE

Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Service. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service, you grant Yahoo! the following world-wide, royalty free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:

* With respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Service.

* With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible area of the Service other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Service and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Service.

* With respect to Content other than photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service other than Yahoo! Groups, the perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other works in any format or medium now known or later developed.

"Publicly accessible" areas of the Service are those areas of the Yahoo! network of properties that are intended by Yahoo! to be available to the general public. By way of example, publicly accessible areas of the Service would include Yahoo! Message Boards and portions of Yahoo! Groups, Photos and Briefcase that are open to both members and visitors. However, publicly accessible areas of the Service would not include portions of Yahoo! Groups that are limited to members, Yahoo! services intended for private communication such as Yahoo! Mail or Yahoo! Messenger, or areas off of the Yahoo! network of properties such as portions of World Wide Web sites that are accessible through via hypertext or other links but are not hosted or served by Yahoo!.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:31 PM on March 13, 2005


Transmitting a message does not create a derivative work, as is technically interpreted by IP law.

Is this strictly true? When I input the text of the message, and AIM transforms that input into an actual message, with smilies and all, is that not a derivative work? I wouldn't think so, but that doesn't mean it's unreasonable to think that might be the case. What about message board posts? The operative legal question is whether AIM has added enough "original creative work" of its own to transform the work into a derivative work. Do you know of any cases which directly address this question? I'm curious to see if any courts have tackled the issue.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:42 PM on March 13, 2005


In short, AOL drafts an ass-covering TOS that leaves a few loose ends where they could do more with your private communications than most people would care for, but not giving them full and absolute ownership of anything you say.

Which is to say, the lawyer pool whined and if anyone in PR spoke up, they were ignored.

Show your disapproval if you don't like it. If nothing else, it'll prod AOL's legal goons to reword the TOS so they cover their ass as well with less ambiguity regarding the ownership of messages. Don't be reasonable in your disapproval though. I'm not joking, wild-eyed frothy-mouthed fanaticism is what it takes to scare a corporation into doing something. Scream "AOL is stealing everything we say!" and they'll do something to assure everyone that they aren't.

As for business related IM service, the only way this TOS will ever be accepted is if it's as widely ignored as MS's infamous draconian EULA.
posted by Saydur at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2005


When I input the text of the message, and AIM transforms that input into an actual message, with smilies and all, is that not a derivative work?

Don't think it is. Presumably, you have entered something representing those smilies to begin with, and all AOL does is replace the ascii with some animated gifs or something. I believe that to fall under copyright, there needs to be some creative step involved, which would be lacking if all that occurs is an automatic manipulation of text (i.e. replacing one symbol with another).

But here's an example that might be covered by the terms: What if they tried to implement an automatic translation service so that, say, people in France and Germany can communicate automatically (in their own language) with people in English-speaking countries. If AOL were to charge for this service, then they would be arguable selling derivative works and thus need a license to do so.
(I have no idea whether machine translation is copyrightable, but I have the feeling that it is.)
posted by sour cream at 5:02 PM on March 13, 2005


Privacy Policy makes clear that AOL does not in fact read your private messages, and does not provide user-identifiable content to third parties, unless required by law.

It's that "unless required by law" that bothers me, monju. If they are logging my IM messages, and it appears they are, I think they should explicitly state how long they keep messages. In this brave new world of streamlined and covert federal access to previously private areas, including data, I want to know what is being logged by all of my service providers, and why they're logging it. If I send a medicinal brownie recipe to my cancer-stricken friend, for example, this data could be used against me in court years in the future. Am I wrong? Even if it's not as bad as the "douchebag" is saying it is, I still consider this unacceptable.
posted by squirrel at 5:12 PM on March 13, 2005


You people are all fucking retards for expecting privacy over a medium that's transmitted unencrypted through a third party. AOL "created a basic expectation of privacy"? HAHA, yeah, right, maybe if you're a total idiot.
posted by Josh Zhixel at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2005


I wish I had interesting enough conversations over AIM to care that AOL might be saving them. But I don't. I feel the same way about government wire-tapping: if the Feds really want to hear my weekly phone calls to my mother, then it's their funeral.
posted by notmydesk at 5:35 PM on March 13, 2005


What if they tried to implement an automatic translation service?

Well, if that were their only concern, probably nothing would be required in the TOS, but even if the lawyer wanted to be conservative, they could have used a more directed blurb along the lines of, "you agree to allow AOL to translate this content into a language different from the language of the content as provided by you." If they have similar non-nefarious future uses in mind, more directed clauses would suffice. Given how sensitive many people have become over these issues I find it hard to believe that AOL implemented these new terms with such innocent intent. If they did, someone really screwed up. If I were the lawyer reviewing this language I would certainly have asked the question, "how might this be perceived by our users?" Perhaps that happened and they implemented it anyway?
posted by caddis at 5:43 PM on March 13, 2005


monju_bosatsu writes "Transmitting a message does not create a derivative work, as is technically interpreted by IP law.

"Is this strictly true? When I input the text of the message, and AIM transforms that input into an actual message, with smilies and all, is that not a derivative work? I wouldn't think so, but that doesn't mean it's unreasonable to think that might be the case. What about message board posts? The operative legal question is whether AIM has added enough 'original creative work' of its own to transform the work into a derivative work. Do you know of any cases which directly address this question? I'm curious to see if any courts have tackled the issue."


No creative work is done in the transformation pf input into actual message (it's all algorithmic, something than can (and is) done by machine), and "creative work" is a requirement for copyright.
posted by orthogonality at 6:44 PM on March 13, 2005


Just because it's algorithmic doesn't mean its not "creative" for purposes of copyright law, and specifically, determining what is a derivative work. For example, a translation--another type of work that can be created algorithmically--is specifically listed in 17 U.S.C. 101 as an example of a derivative work.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:05 PM on March 13, 2005


I'm going to write some novel, message it through like ICQ then sue them for copyright infringement once it reaches the otherside.

Thattle speed all this up so we -CAN- complain about them stealing our precious ROFL LOLs.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:12 PM on March 13, 2005


Great thread. Thanks for posting Yahoo!'s policy for comparison, monju_bosatsu.

I don't think the AIM license is well drafted. It is overbroad and vague

Ha. Overbroad and vague from an AOL lawyer's point of view probably seems very well drafted indeed.
posted by mediareport at 7:18 PM on March 13, 2005


monju_bosatsu writes "Just because it's algorithmic doesn't mean its not 'creative' for purposes of copyright law, and specifically, determining what is a derivative work. For example, a translation--another type of work that can be created algorithmically--is specifically listed in 17 U.S.C. 101 as an example of a derivative work."


Any compretent lawyer will argue that translations can't be created algorithmically, and even if they could be, that knowledge did not inform the intent of the legislators who passed 17 USC 101.

Or as your comment algorithmically translated says,
Precisely because it is not specifically algorithmic and notes meant its "creative" not for the law on the royalty and, that a derived work is. P. E.G. a translation -- another type it work which can be caused algorithmiquement -- towards 17 U.S.C is recorded specifically. 101 like example of a derived work.
posted by orthogonality at 7:18 PM on March 13, 2005


sorry to self link, but i didnt see anyone else comment on this point here:

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=142203&cid=11917599
posted by MrLint at 7:49 PM on March 13, 2005


Okay, some clarification. After further consideration and a bit of research, it appears my original off-the-cuff analysis was a bit, well, deficient. Upon rereading the AIM TOS, I realize that there are, in fact, three components to relevant to our discussion. There are, as I mentioned above, the privacy policy and license elements. Now, as caddis and orthogonality have argued, a transmission of your message is probably not a derivative work. It is almost certainly, however, a reproduction of your work. As such, you grant AIM a license under the TOS to reproduce that work. However, the issue of derivative works is different. In its TOS, AIM does not take a license to, but instead claims ownership of derivative works. What derivative works does AIM think it will be creating? That's hard to say. However, the TOS clause specifically mentions "collective work or other derivative works," which makes me think that collections of user content might be what AIM had in mind. One example of this might be pages of posts in comments. For example, the front page of MetaFilter is a collective work, a derivation of the individual posts which it comprises. It could be that AIM is simply claiming ownership of the collective works which form the pages of its message boards. Unfortunately, because the clause is so broadly drafted, it's hard to say.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:55 PM on March 13, 2005


I wish I had interesting enough conversations over AIM to care that AOL might be saving them. But I don't. I feel the same way about government wire-tapping: if the Feds really want to hear my weekly phone calls to my mother, then it's their funeral.

I generally agree with you inasmuch as my online conversations are pretty dull, notmydesk, but I think the attitude you're professing is short-sighted. In a democracy, we're obliged to be concerned with things that don't directly impact our individual lives. For example, I don't huff model glue, but I would still oppose the death sentence for those caught doing so. Likewise, I may lead a life unworthy of federal examination, but that doesn't mean I will willingly submit all areas of my life to their scrutiny. Privacy standards have been on an increasingly rapid downward slide and, believe it or not, the repercussions will eventually affect your life. People taking positions like the one you profess above make it easier for government and private industry to eliminate what little privacy we as consumers and citizens retain, which in priciple is bad, and will be bad in the long run, even if there appears to be nothing wrong with it in the short-run. No offence intended to you personally, and forgive me if I misread your intent. My general point remains the same either way.
posted by squirrel at 8:17 PM on March 13, 2005


Read the comment on the original linked site from AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein: America Online
(it's too long to post here in one part and I can't link direct to it)


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."

(continued)
posted by kika at 8:24 PM on March 13, 2005


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.

posted by kika at 8:25 PM on March 13, 2005


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


MSN TOS:
6. MATERIALS YOU POST OR PROVIDE; COMMUNICATIONS MONITORING

For materials you post or otherwise provide to Microsoft related to the MSN Web Sites (a "Submission"), you grant Microsoft permission to (1) use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat your Submission, each in connection with the MSN Web Sites, and (2) sublicense these rights, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. Microsoft will not pay you for your Submission. Microsoft may remove your Submission at any time. For each Submission, you represent that you have all rights necessary for you to make the grants in this section.

Posted by: Andrew Weinstein | March 13, 2005 05:28 PM


This sounds genuine and IMHO makes the original story just a big pile of sh*it, only useful to fill nerd's boring Sundays...
posted by kika at 8:28 PM on March 13, 2005


Having no right to privacy explicitly stated in their TOS defines the entire argument, regardless of where else it is restricted. The fact is that AOL is declaring out loud that your thoughts sent through their systems become, in part, theirs.

Such is their right and its my right to refuse to do business with them. And to try and convince other people to do the same.
posted by fenriq at 8:47 PM on March 13, 2005


kika writes " (continued)"

Just out of curiosity, why'd you split your comment into three parts? That took a lot of Gaul.
posted by orthogonality at 9:32 PM on March 13, 2005


I've seen this convention elsewhere, orthogonality. I think some boards prefer long quoted passages to be broken into smaller posts.
posted by taz at 11:12 PM on March 13, 2005


Eh, I've taken to directly addressing the government in my AIM conversations. After that scandal with the Secret Service and Livejournal, I just assume that the feds are either a) oozing with both power and free time and can dispatch armies in response to claims of dangerous wackos on thar interweb (Dear Secret Service, while admittedly a wacko, I am not dangerous. xo.) or b) are really bored.

If the latter, I hope they at least find my online communications about zombies and pirates to be amusing.

I can't get too worked up about this, even in terms of "What about my rights?!" There are things that I hold far far dearer than my ability to spew forth via Instant Messenger and I prefer to pick my battles. AOL is a giant soulsucking enterprise and they may or may not be evil. Not really news.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:43 AM on March 14, 2005


Just out of curiosity, why'd you split your comment into three parts? That took a lot of Gaul.

I dunno, when I pasted the comments in the comment box (from a text editor, not from another browser window, so they didn't contain any formatting) they just disapeared. Only when I did it in stages it worked. Might have been something else though.
posted by kika at 4:50 AM on March 14, 2005


That took a lot of Gaul.

Capet!
posted by trharlan at 5:37 AM on March 14, 2005


This entire post is just flat-out incorrect.

Hysteria ahead! Full reverse, Mr. Moe!

Relevant portion for the lazy:
the section quoted in the Slashdot article applies only to posts in public forums -- a common provision in most online publishers' terms of service. AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein says flatly: 'AOL does not read person-to-person communications.' He also says AIM communiques are never stored on AOL's hard drives.
Meh.
posted by Ryvar at 5:40 AM on March 14, 2005


The wording of the section makes it read in English as if that is the case:

In addition, by posting Content on an AIM Product, you grant AOL .... irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right[s] .... You waive any right to privacy.

Except the definition of AIM Product includes Messenger, which contradicts Weinstein.
posted by bonaldi at 6:42 AM on March 14, 2005


The greatest weakness in the TOS/Privacy Policy is AOL right to disclose in response to a "subpoena."

While many people think that "subpoenas" are government orders, they can, in fact, be issued by private attorneys in private litigation without the approval in advance of the court supervising the litigation. Compliance with such subpoenas isn't mandatory at least in the first instance -- you can always seek to quash them before the court. This requires lawyers and time, which isn't something AIM will invest in for a holder of a free account. A good TOS/Privacy Policy will provide that notice will be given to the account holder of any civil subpoena and the subpoena will only be complied with after the account holder has such notice and sufficient time to obtain a protective order from the court.
posted by MattD at 7:09 AM on March 14, 2005


Let's talk via aim msn email telephone letter in person communicado a series of undecipherable blinks in case someone might be listening.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 7:16 AM on March 14, 2005


Via Slashdot, AOL has been doing a bunch of communication refuting the claim that AOL claims full rights to IM conversations. The Houston Chronicle reporter quotes an AOL spokesman as saying "In a subsequent phone conversation, Weinstein said that AOL does not monitor AIM traffic, and does not store it". So AOL is on the record refuting the rumour I mentioned about them logging AIM traffic.

I'm glad they say that; I like AIM. Still, the best way to protect yourself is to encrypt things.
posted by Nelson at 8:38 AM on March 14, 2005


If bonaldi is correct, then AOL is claiming full rights to AIM conversations, regardless of what Weinstein says. The TOS is the written contract. Something a random exec says on Slashdot carries no legal weight, AFAIK. So either Weinstein is lying, or their TOS is shit and they need to hire some decent lawyers.

If the TOS and the Privacy Policy directly contradict each other, which one takes precedent?
posted by dirigibleman at 9:53 AM on March 14, 2005


If they are logging my IM messages, and it appears they are, I think they should explicitly state how long they keep messages.

You should assume forever. If they are doing any logging at all they probably have backup systems in place. You never can tell when a tape might get removed from rotation and set on a shelf for any number of reasons. That tape can then be subpenoaed at any time.
posted by Mitheral at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2005


But Lusy P Hur and sbutler, do you download the updates when prompted? Because:

The following terms and conditions apply to all users who either registered for AIM services or downloaded AIM updates or software on or after February 5, 2004
posted by suchatreat at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2005


They're fixing it.
posted by bonaldi at 6:45 PM on March 14, 2005


Its good that they are fixing the "mistake" and wording it more carefully so that people can't just read a single sentence and know that AOL has every intention of doing whatever they damn well please with things transmitted across their systems.

They've lost me permanently though. Any company that would be so careless or so arrogant is not worth doing business with, even if that business is free.
posted by fenriq at 10:34 PM on March 14, 2005


Snopes has something to say on it too.
posted by Berend at 11:35 PM on March 14, 2005


I also don't understand these people who feel the need to change their name all the time.

Aw you must never get slutty online then

At least for a few years that's what I loved about Prodigy, new screennames for chat rooms were available every 24 hours, and they weren't linked to your e-mail at all either (if they were traceable to ISPs I'm not sure)

Speaking of which, I wish I had access to Prodigy BBS messages from 1992, yesterday I finally got in touch with and old pen pal via Friendster that I talked to back then. I'm ashamed I doubted she would still be online, we were addicts at 13 and grew up geek. I'm so happy.

I can't even remember most of the names of my "friends" back then, when you had a wierd sign in code and had your real name attached to your account (mostly, I jokingly added a PhD and Prodigy asked for proof when I wanted to remove it)

I don't think they're cancelling inactive paid accounts after 90 days, I would hate to see someone steal the name I've used for 9 years.
posted by GlitterBum at 12:22 AM on March 18, 2005


I also don't understand these people who feel the need to change their name all the time.

Aw you must never get slutty online then

At least for a few years that's what I loved about Prodigy, new screennames for chat rooms were available every 24 hours, and they weren't linked to your e-mail at all either (if they were traceable to ISPs I'm not sure)

Speaking of which, I wish I had access to Prodigy BBS messages from 1992, yesterday I finally got in touch with and old pen pal via Friendster that I talked to back then. I'm ashamed I doubted she would still be online, we were addicts at 13 and grew up geek. I'm so happy.

I can't even remember most of the names of my "friends" back then, when you had a wierd sign in code and had your real name attached to your account (mostly, I jokingly added a PhD and Prodigy asked for proof when I wanted to remove it)

I don't think they're cancelling inactive paid accounts after 90 days, I would hate to see someone steal the name I've used for 9 years. Since someone is gonna explain why I'm wasting money on a paid account, I have to say it's the appropriate thing for my parents who have no clue how to use the internet and gave me a spare account. Of course, I have to be careful with what they can access of my info, but back to them being clueless online...
posted by GlitterBum at 12:24 AM on March 18, 2005


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