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Are my Instant Messaging conversations private?

One of the extremely common questions I get is how to hack into
someone else’s instant messaging history, or how to recover an IM chat that
may, or may not, have been archived.

Those answers vary based on the instant messaging client that you are using.
But there’s something else recently discovered that’s much more

AOL has the right to read, and even publish publicly, your private IM


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As reported recently by Aunty-Spam,
the AOL terms of service for AOL Instant Messenger includes this very clear,
and very scary phrase: “You waive any right to privacy.” It goes on to discuss
how AOL may use your instant messages in any way it sees fit, at any time.

Again, I say, Yikes!

Now, I doubt seriously whether AOL is interested in the gushing’s of a 13
year old IMing her best friend of the week wondering her boyfriend’s really
‘all that’ or not. But, as I’ve commented on before, people
are using free services for business-critical purposes. Are you using AIM to
discuss sensitive, private material? What would happen to you, or your
business, if AOL decided that your conversation was a good example to publish
on the web for all to see?

All together now: Yikes!

So don’t. Personally, I’d run away from AOL Instant Messenger (and ICQ,
which is owned by AOL and has the same terms of service) for anything that you
wouldn’t want the world to see. In a business setting? Using an encrypted,
business class IM solution. But run away from the free solutions. As with free
email, you’re just asking for problems.

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49 comments on “Are my Instant Messaging conversations private?”

  1. To be fair, that is the exact same ToS that every online publisher has.

    They need to have all those legal terms to publish your content.

    In other words, since your content is YOUR content, you need to approve AOL’s publishing YOUR content on THEIR web site.

    The same thing happened with MSN spaces, and again it was a tempest in a teacup.

    Here’s more info from Snopes:

  2. I don’t know if it’s the EXACT same wording. The AIM TOS was very ambiguous, and could, in fact, be interpreted to mean all your *private* IM’s are their’s for the having. As it turns out, because of the ruckus, they plan to clarify their TOS soon.

  3. Is the same true for MSN Instant Messenger? That is, can someone be reading your conversation while you don’t know they are there? “Hack” into the conversation?

  4. Well, this article covered AOL’s Terms Of Service … and AOL’s explicitly said that *they* could read and republish your IM conversations at will. They’ve since clarified their terms of service.

    Microsoft’s TOS are different, I believe.

    But to answer you question about “hacking”, which is something else … yes, of course, it’s possible, though difficult, to hack and listen in on an IM conversation. It depends on many MANY things, but possible? Yes.

  5. Thank you, Leo. I’ve been using MSN IM at work and I’m concerned that someone in our IS department could hack into my conversations. How difficult is it? How much effort would they have to put into doing it?

  6. Leo – I am a user of AIM at home and I want to archive my instant messages, but can’t figure out how to turn on the archival feature. Can you tell me how?

  7. hey, my names gabrielle, im a hacker. i HAVE hacked into friends instant messages, and its not as hard as people make it sound. the easiest way is if you get a a computer (at the library, at school, at your home) that the person has ben on. all you have to do is download. im ion my frens screen names all the time. so yes, it is possible, and sometimes VERY easy. ne ?s, just im me on a screen name ive ben using 2 tok 2 people hoo want 2 no more. its amandababy999, its on aol, neway, l8r yall!!!

  8. IMO: that’s not hacking, that’s just taking advantage of someone’s carelessness. But yes, public or shared computers are a HUGE risk for your privacy, and as you can see from the previous poster, easy pickin’s if you’re not careful.

  9. How do I read someone else’s MSN convo history with a specific person without going onto their computer or anything? aka actually hack it not take advantage of carelessness

  10. Thats kinda disturbing… I mean really, think about it… If AOL(tm) is monitoring your personal conversations they are basicalling getting first person access to the private details of your life… And I know alot of people who often vent their rage over AIM and make threats that could be considered “Incriminating” and “Premeditation” to terrible events like school shootings and what not… So if AIM happened to be monitoring a conversation of that nature they could easily turn it over to the athorities…

  11. I want to know the best way/program I can get to read my teenage daughter’s msn instant messages. I don’t have a concern with the web pages and other sites. I know there is an option to save history on msn but she knows how to uncheck the box. I just don’t want anything too hi-tech because I work at home and there is a lot of business that I do from these two computers myself. HELP!!

  12. i have a legal accusation that i can only settle if i have an old instant message and i dont know how to find it on aol 9.0 can you please help me as soon as possible

  13. how do you find an old conversation you had with someone if you never saved it. Like all the conversations are usually saved to ur computer automatically but how do i find them>? please email me and let me know

  14. so my boyfriend && me had some really private conversations and his dad just told him he is getting a program to recover all of his past IM that possible??

  15. Maybe. It depends on what programs you used, whether or not either of you had “save conversations” turned on, and whether his dad had already installed monitoring software on the machine or his network.

    In most caes the answer is simply “no”, but ya never know. He could be bluffing … or not.

  16. i had a very important aim conversation just recently and accidently X’d the window. is there a way i can recover and get that conversation back?

  17. For windows messenger on win xp there are no message archiving options as such,but still does windows messenger archive the chat messages in some location by default??

    Hash: SHA1

    No, not normally. There are tools out there that will, but the default
    in Windows and IE is that they just don’t know about all the possible IM
    programs you could be running, so they wouldn’t know what to delete.

    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


  19. If a friend logged in at her house on my name and I came home and logged in on my name, would her chat be on my computer at home?

    Hash: SHA1


    Not unless you get a court order and get the IM service to provide
    them if they’ve saved them at all, which is also unlikely.

    So once again: no.

    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


  21. Hey.
    My boyfriend and I have had private convos on AIM and my mother “womehow” dug them up. Now she is questioning all of our IMs. How do I go and delete the convos before she can get to them? Better yet, how can i get access to them?

  22. I have private convos with my friends all the time on AIM. My mom somehow always seems to read them and i don’t know how. It is my convo and she has no right to read them. How can i get access to them after i X out of the convo box? How can i read them before she can?

  23. LEO!! my mother is secretly reading my IMs how can i prevent that and make sure they are deleted?? HELP! she needs to trust me and not invade my privacy!

  24. see when you compromise your sons privacy that he trusts you respect BARBRA you lose your sons trust. I know your a mom but for him to feel safe and able to talk to you you cant dig it invades him makes him feel unsafe and violated if he cant feel safe at home where will he get that security from? Think before you violate your own child’s privacy. I’m just recommending this you don’t have to but just give a little more trust a relationship with your child works both ways.

  25. If you are worried about anyone reading or creating a log of your instant messaging conversations, you can use a private instant messaging program. I am a blogger for Brosix, and they offer a corporate and a free version of their program, which is on secure servers so no one can hack into and save or read your conversations.

    Brosix Blog

  26. If AOL is the owner of my transcripts, there is a way I could read them online? I mean, can I see my historial without login at AIM server?


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