All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats

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  • All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats

Holy complete waiver of privacy, Batman!

AOL’s new terms of service for their AIM service includes that AIM users waive any right to privacy, and that the AIM user allows AOL to the right to reproduce and republish your chats anywhere, any time.

Now, this only applies to users who downloaded an AIM product from AOL, or registered for AIM service with AOL, after February 4, 2004. Got that? So if you have downloaded an AIM product from AOL, or registered for an AIM service (and Aunty believes that just registering a new screen name for an existing AIM account would qualify) within the past year, you are bound by these new terms of service.

This appears to apply to all individual AIM users, and may even apply to businesses using AIM@Work, AOL’s premium business class service. AIM@Work offers web- and voice-conferencing, and lets AIM@Work users use their business email address as their AOL screen name.

Of course, even if it “only” applies to individual users, that’s certainly onerous enough!

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All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats

Here is the relevant text of the new 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.”

Why does Aunty keep hearing in her head “We control the horizontal. We control the vertical”? Probably because this really is the outer limits of waiver of privacy rights.

You can read the full text of the new AIM terms of service here.

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All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats

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  • All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats

21 Replies to “All Your AIM Chats are Belong to Us – AOL New AIM Terms of Service Waives All Privacy, AOL Can Publish Your Chats”

  1. You didn’t copy the entire paragraph from the TOS. Otherwise, you would have noticed that they said they will NOT display your original content. Also, unless your username displays your full name (which is dumb) and you any other personal information, it’s not an invasion of your privacy. Also, it says that it will display modified versions of the CONTENT, not the name associated with it or even the username. So, why are you trying to make a mountain out of a molehill? If you’re going to report something like this, at least tell the truth.

    {Ed. note: TCM – this article was written 6 years ago – undoubtedly the TOS has changed *many* times since then. However, we stand by our article – this *was* the whole story at the time of the writing of this article.}

  2. I’ve been using AOL AIM chatrooms and messaging service for years. And from my vast number of years using AOL’s services, i’ve noticed that AOL doesn’t give a lying… anything… about AIM’s service. They ignore the majority of issues when it comes to AIM. Including threats, hacking of others, and so on and so forth. Only reason they would intervene into AIM’s service is if the software or service is disrupted. I’ve used to gain access to AIM chatrooms and the chats listed on that site are officially provided by AOL, and AOL pays absolutely no mind to them. AOL does not care about AIM.

  3. Can you tell me how to view my boyfriend’s aol im conversations without going on his computer? He’s lied to me before, I need to know if he’s telling the truth. Please help me do this. Thanks!
    Highly appreciated,

  4. Nope. This article says that in a little more detail:

  5. if there is any way to retrieve old AOL conversations that were not saved- someone PLEASE let me know. i’m going crazy. and i know there just has to be a way. please email me.

  6. They’ve updated the terms of service today, incidentally, removing the bit about waiving all privacy and clarifying which types of posts are subject to the provisions specified.,1759,1776146,00.asp

  7. Michael: I think Aunty can hardly be blamed for not reading the Snopes article before posting, given that it looks like her article was published first. It was certainly published before AOL made the “clarifying” statement that Snopes cites.

  8. This is in the Privacy Statement of the AIM agreement, if all four corners of the document were looked into, they would see this too.

    “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

  9. Also, this doesn’t appear to apply to screen name registrations made through Netscape’s site (My Netscape, Webmail, etc.). As if things weren’t confusing enough already!

  10. Please read this before publishing this sort of thing to the Internet and scarying the bejesus out of people:

  11. Michael Baldelli wrote: “Please read this before publishing this sort of thing to the Internet and scarying the bejesus out of people:”

    Dear Mr. Baldelli – the present wording of the actual terms of service, as cited in Aunty’s article, are the legal terms. In the event of a lawsuit, the court would look to the language within the four corners of the document – the words of an AOL spokesperson would have almost no bearing whatsoever in a court of law. AOL has indicated that they will be replacing the present TOS, which they admit is “inartfully worded”, shortly. In the meantime, Aunty’s legal analysis stands, however if you choose you are certainly welcome to put the matter to the test. Please be sure to report back to the class.

    Kissy kissy,

    Aunty Spam

  12. I don’t think they can publish conversations that took place under their old TOS *unless* you accept the new TOS at which point they can pretty much do what they like. Accepting the new TOS could be implied simply by continuing to use AIM. It would be a very interesting court case…

  13. I am certainly glad that I registered sometime late 2003. But my other screen name…


  14. The biggest issue is not whether AIM chats are private or not. You’d be foolish to believe they were. The much larger issue is something akin to my sending code to a cool new utility I wrote via AIM file transfer to my collaborator. Per the EULA, AOL now has unlimited rights to do what they please with the code.

    Or, if I have a band and I send my mother an MP3 using file transfer, AOL can now publish that song.

    Time to check into 3rd party AIM utilities that encrypt messages. Or maybe even jumping over to another IM package.

  15. Is anyone else reminded of the great GeoCities exodus when Yahoo took over and claimed all rights to your website?

  16. It’s one thing to acknowledge that the system administrators, as a third party to the conversation, have the ability to read your messages. It’s another thing entirely for that third party to reserve the right to publish those messages however they want.

    If you stay in a hotel, you know the staff has the ability to walk into your room at any time. They can walk in on you in the shower or in a compromising position, they can walk off with your stuff—heck, they have the ability to bug your room. There’s a reason those urban legends about cameras in the honeymoon suites won’t go away: we know it’s possible. Still, you have an expectation that they won’t walk off with your stuff, that they won’t record video of you in bed, that they won’t walk in on you in the shower. And while a hotel will ask you to sign a waiver absolving them of responsibility if someone steals things from your room, they don’t reserve the right to do it themselves.

    Look at it this way: this TOS item, if enforceable, gives AOL the right to print a collection of the steamiest cybersex conversations on AIM, with names attached, without paying the participants. After all, they’ve both waived their right to privacy and granted AOL license to use that *ahem* content.

    Same applies to anything you might not want to get out, like “Dude, I was so drunk last night that I [insert embarrasing story here].”

  17. I’ve never felt that anything said online was private in the first place, but my concern with these new terms is that they appear to be retroactive?? I don’t get how they can change the rules and apply them a year back. Sure, they can write new TOS and make them effective immediately so that future use of the service would be included, but retroactive??


  18. Just further proof that anyone using AOL, needs their head read. Oh wait, can AOL now do that under the EULA ?

    Certainly ISP’s aren’t that scarce in the US of A that anyone actually has to use AOL – are they ?

  19. The new “EULA” seems to say you can now slander yourself and have nobody to sue but yourself, all with the help of AOL and its “partners”. Pretty scary.

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