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Sun, 13 Mar 2005
AOL teaches us a lesson about the commons

The story about the new terms of service(TOS) for AOL Instant Messenger is going around the Internet. I saw the story at MacSlash last night. The offending portion of the TOS reads like this:

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.

So if AOL decide they wanted to post logs of your AOL AIM/iChat conversations, they could do so at any time. The TOS

AOL may change the Terms of Service at any time and in its sole discretion. The modified Terms of Service will be effective immediately upon posting and you agree to the new posted Terms of Service by continuing your use of the AIM Products. AOL will provide at least 30-days' notice before any material changes take effect. If you do not agree with the modified Terms of Service, your only remedy is to discontinue using the AIM Products and cancel your registration.

We the users of the system have no recourse other than to stop using the system.

A lot of people (about 600 over at Slashdot as of this writing) are unhappy about this, and want to pressure AOL to "fix" the TOS. I believe that enough outcry could cause this to happen. But after this, I fundamentally distrust AOL Time Warner's influence over a communications tool that I take for granted. Some Slashdot readers are advocating encryption solutions like SILC, AIM Encryption certificates, or Gaim-Encryption. These are fine for those pairs of users that have the patience to work through making one of these work, but they are probably out of reach for normal people.

If you have me on your AOL/iChat buddy list, we now have a problem. I want to honor the new AOL TOS by discontinuing my usage of the system. The likely target candidate is for me to start running Adium and making Jabber the primary protocol that I try to use. Unfortunately, things are complicated because I use iChat's audio and video chat features, and they rely on the AOL buddy list system for their operation. I can only hope that the rumors about Jabber support in Tiger's version of iChat are true. Someone should get Steve Jobs to read the AOL management the riot act.

XMPP/Jabber folks: this is the moment you've been waiting for. In my opinion, AOL has given AIM users a reason to leave their system in droves. As long as people are looking for a new home, you have a shot a getting them to try Jabber. You need the front page on Jabber.org to address the new AOL TOS and then point people to the best Jabber clients for Windows, the Mac, and Linux.

On the one hand, I can't believe that AOL's management actually approved this change. On the other hand, a misstep like this is exactly the break that the Jabber folks need in order to gain adoption. AOL has just taught the world why we need a publicly trustable instant messaging infrastructure, and for that I am truly thankful. Anybody that thinks handing over their data to a network service is the future should think twice after this.

AOL's PR folks are responding to this. Good places to look are Steve Rubel's blog, and Dwight Silverman's (Houston Chronicle) blog (you'll need to register - be sure to read the updates). The key pieces of new information are:

1) The TOS change went into effect in February 2004. (Shame on me for not reading the entire 6 screenfuls of the TOS)
2) AOL Spokesman Alan Weinstein has stated that AOL does not monitor or store IM traffic. This is a relief, for the moment.

Does this change the situation? Well, it makes those of us who didn't do our homework on timing of the change look stupid. I never saw the AOL terms change because I don't download the AOL client. I originally got my AIM account before I started using a Mac in Nov 2003.

But fundamentally, it doesn't change what I wrote about. I've been concerned for a long time about the "major" IM providers -- which is why I've written about XMPP/Jabber before. This just pushes up the importance of helping the Jabber folks increase the adoption of Jabber. I don't want to trust the assurances of AOL/Microsoft and Yahoo on IM.

[22:06] | [computers/internet] | # | TB | F | G | 6 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
New version of PyBlosxom comments plugin

I've just updated the comments plugin for PyBlosxom with changes for the upcoming PyBlosxom 1.2. If you are working off the CVS HEAD version of PyBlosxom, you can get the new versions here (or via CVS).

[14:11] | [computers/internet/weblogs/pyblosxom] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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