Saturday, March 12, 2005

AOL makes users waive privacy and purports to own users' instant messages

It pays to read the fine print. AOL's Instant Messenger software (AIM) is one of the more popoular IM platforms. Privacy Digest just pointed a reference to AIM's new Terms of Service, which purport to give AOL a blanket right to do whatever they want with users' private messages and require the user to waive all rights to privacy with respect to those messages.

AIM Terms of Service:

"...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. In addition, by posting Content on an AIM Product, you grant AOL, its parent, affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this Content in any medium. You waive any right to privacy. You waive any right to inspect or approve uses of the Content or to be compensated for any such uses...."

This is exactly the sort of thing that will backfire on a company. It was posted to Slashdot early yesterday (Slashdot | AIM's New Terms Of Service) and it is getting pretty wide coverage. The above terms will make people think that AOL is a proxy for "big brother" or that it is heavy handed or both. I don't think it'll be long before it gets to the conventional media (it's already referred to in the Houston Chronicle Techblog: - N0 privacy 4 u, LOL!!!!!), which will threaten AOL's proposed move into VOIP services. "If they eavesdrop on my instant messages, can I trust them with my phone calls?."

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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