Monday, March 14, 2005


America Online has been scrambling for years to keep users, but it must be feeling better if it’s posting a policy as offensive as this one on instant messaging:

By posting Content on an [AOL Instant Messenger] 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.

A spokesman for the company, Andrew Weinstein, says the warning was intended to be only about content AIM users post for all to see, such as a “Hot or Not” photo on which others vote, not conversation between two people. But it’s specious for a company to create and stick with a legal policy that allows such a thing while insisting the company would never use it. This is like when U.S. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed invasive elements of the USA Patriot Act because they hadn’t been used.

In both cases, if the offensive abilities are worth so little, they shouldn’t be codified.

The publication eWeek, which broke the story, confirms with lawyers that AOL’s defense is weak. Just like its service. And that’s what makes this invitation to paranoia, and the risk of alienating users or scaring off new ones, so bizarre.

Thanks to Carl for pointing out the issue.


tania said...

not that i ever assumed i had much if any privacy using aim ... but damn. that is absurd. i wonder if it'd even hold up in court.

but it's weird that the tos is binding to customers "who either registered for AIM services or downloaded AIM updates or software on or after February 5, 2004." that doesn't even make sense - the software isn't tied directly to usernames. so if i log in from someone's computer who updated their aim software, am i bound by this instead of the old netscape terms now? i don't even use the aim client at home...

Scape7 said...

Maybe the software sends out a marker somehow? Or perhaps some internal programming change means that only the post-Feb. 5, 2004, AIM software is capable of sharing the data easily?

I dunno. But I would say it goes by AIM version, not user, making what is, to the casual user, an incredibly pointless distinction.

I hate AOL.