March 15th, 2005


AIM and file-hosting sites

I told about the American Online (AOL/AIM) TOS, which is something that has been flowing around the net lately.

Now, AOL has seen fit to go out and explain how that TOS is implemented:

America Online spokesman Andrew Weinstein, however, maintained that AOL does not monitor, read or review any user-to-user communication through the AIM network, except in response to a valid legal process.

Weinstein told the clause in question falls under the heading "Content You Post," meaning it only relates to content a user posts in a public area of the AIM service. "If a user posts content in a public area of the service, like a chat room, message board or other public forum, that information may be used by AOL for other purposes," he explained.

One example of this, Weinstein said, may be a user who posts a "Hot or Not" photo and thus allows AIM to post it for other AIM users to vote on. "Another might be taking an excerpt from a message board posting on a current news issue and highlighting it in a different area of the service.

"Such language is standard in almost all similar user agreements, including those from Microsoft [Corp.] and most online news publications. That clause simply lets the user know that content they post in a public area can be seen by other users and can be used by the owner of the site for other purposes," Weinstein added.

"AIM user-to-user communication has been and will remain private," the AOL spokesman declared.

Which is both good and bad, in a sense.

I think AOL will rewrite their TOS, since it's not clear exactly what they mean. In the TOS they write "any AOL products".

ICQ, which is owned by the same company, is more clear in their TOS, stating that direct messaging "usually" is a direct (peer-to-peer) messaging, and rarely go through the ICQ network/servers, and it's even possible in ICQ to decide that it's not going through any ICQ network at all. The only thing going through ICQ, being stored on their servers etc, is when it has to. Using ICQ online, on their site is one of those cases. Another is Offline messages, which has to be stored somewhere until the other can receive it. ICQ (Which has a similar TOS when it comes to use of content, but clearly indicates that it's material that is posted in public areas of states that, that material is not monitored, and erased as soon as the content has been delivered.

I'm not sure how AOL works, when it comes to that.

There's one thing. AOL claims they doesn't monitor user-to-user conversations. except in case of a legal process (I suspect, in line with Patriot Act or something similar to Wire-tapping of phones). The worse case scenario, in that case, is that everything is "recorded", in case they need to go in and retrieve information of conversations which might have resulted in some kind of legal process. Now, most phone-conversations etc, is stored, so that's not something new, still it's one thing to keep in mind in how monitored we are, for good and bad.

The other thing is the rights to content. As AOL states, it's a standard TOS used by many other services. Doesn't make it less bad.

Most commercial sites, have that kind of TOS, which states that; If you give us material, we have the right to use it as we see fit.

We have something similar in Swedish law. If you voluntarily hands over something to someone, and doesn't write a contract of use and time-period etc, you essentially have no right to that something, if the other "steals it". Technically, they're not stealing it, since you hands it over to them. It's different if they steal your car, computer or something, without you allowing them to do it. As in, you can't steal anything you're given.

When it comes to online sites, you give them content, and thus they doesn't steal it.

As I said, it's mostly "commercial" sites doing this. The sites that host your images, and make prints, books etc. Camera companies, often offer a service which allow you to share your images online. (The ironic thing with that, is that you most likely pay for that service when you buy their camera, and still they take the right to use all the photos you've uploaded to that service. Essentially, you pay them to use your images and possibly make a profit out of those).

Honest, "non-commercial", sites have a slightly different TOS.

In order for that site to show an image on their site, they must have the right to do that, which is stated in their TOS. The difference is that, they only ask for the right to post the image on their site, in line with your request to do that. They doesn't ask for the right to use it on other sites, nor to use it on other media, and the images are erased the same moment you decide to erase it and not show it on their site.

One thing that's interesting. When it comes to free hosting. Non-company sites, often offer free-hosting without demanding the right to use your images to maybe earn a profit from. In case they earn any money, it's from advertising on that site, but most of it would come out of their own pockets (Servers, bandwith etc). Companies, which are directly or indirectly payed in other ways, such as selling prints, for their service, covering the cost of providing the service, are often the one that also take the right to make money out of the content you upload.