The Llama King writes "America Online tells the Houston Chronicle's TechBlog that, despite a recent Slashdot posting to the contrary, AOL Instant Messenger's terms of service do not imply that the company has the right to use private IM communications, and 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. The original Slashdot item was linked throughout the blogosphere -- it will be interesting to see if AOL can extinguish this fire." (Read more below.)
It could be that they don't actually take advantage of its terms, but the Terms of Service seem to broadly favor AIM's right to do exactly what they say they're not doing; rather than drawing any distinction between IM services and public forum posts, the actual terms seem clearly to apply to all AIM products. Here's how they put it:
AOL could probably erase many of the worries about conversation snooping if they would provide a definition of the words "post" and "submit" as used in the following paragraph of their ToS (which says it applies to "any AIM Product"), and explicitly disclaimed an "irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote" the contents of online conversations:For purposes of these Terms of Service, the term "AIM Products" shall mean AIM software (whether preinstalled, on a medium or offered by download), AIM services, AIM websites (including, without limitation, AIM.COM and AIMTODAY.COM) and all other software, features, tools, web sites and services provided by or through AIM from America Online, Inc. and its business divisions (e.g., Netscape) (collectively "AOL") and AOL's third-party vendors.
You may only post Content that you created or which the owner of the Content has given you. You may not post or distribute Content that is illegal or that violates these Terms of Service. By posting or submitting Content on any AIM Product, you represent and warrant that (i) you own all the rights to this Content or are authorized to use and distribute this Content on the AIM Product and (ii) this Content does not and will not infringe any copyright or any other third-party right nor violate any applicable law or regulation.