AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) has released an upgrade, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has recommended that AIM users “not switch to the new version, as it introduces important privacy-unfriendly features.”
Why the concern from the EFF?
According to the statement, the new system “started storing more logs of communications and . . . apparently scanned all private IMs for URLs and pre-fetched any URLs found in them.” The EFF asserts that these changes are in line “with a general trend toward more pervasive cloud-based services in which your personal chat data is centrally stored in plain text and an easy target for law enforcement and criminals.”
The statement specifically addresses the way AOL plans to store IM “conversations on AOL’s servers for up to two months, and perhaps indefinitely.” EFF notes that although the intention behind this is to make chat more user-friendly if one moves from device to device, “the danger is that your private conversations are now available to, for instance, law enforcement agents with a warrant or a national security letter, or to criminals in the event of a data breach.”
As it stands now, logging all conversations is the default, but the EFF insists it should be opt-in and the “off the record” mode, which allows users to disable logging for conversations with specific contacts, “should be robust and prominent in the user interface.”
The EFF also targets changes in downloading private message URLs, proper notice, opt-in provisions, and messaging plug-ins in its full statement.
The EFF does, however, praise AOL’s willingness to discuss and work on privacy concerns with the organization, specifically noting that AOL has been receptive to such discussions so far. Nonetheless, the statement ends with this:
Bottom line: Because signing onto the new version of AIM permanently changes your account settings to log all conversations to AOL’s servers by default, we recommend that existing AIM users do not upgrade. As always, we recommend users stay safer online by using chat clients that are compatible with OTR.
What do you think of the AIM upgrade?