Tuesday, March 15, 2005

AOL clarifies IM privacy policy

After the mini-explosion earlier this week about Instant Messaging privacy and terms of service, AOL has posted new language in its TOS that clarifies when it may use material and when it may not. It also has included a helpful plain-language note to explain what it means. As spokesman Andrew Weinstein said in an e-mail: "same policy, but hopefully much clearer."

A couple of thoughts:
  • AOL did a good job in responding to this and in posting the clarifying note. Yes, as the company notes, the TOS was revised a year ago. and yes, this is the same policy. Still. that doesn't mean much these days when perceptions count -- and in this case it was when the perception was discovered (in other words, someone actually probably read the TOS) that counted.
  • Read the dang TOS and EULAs when they pop up on your screen. Even better, do a CTRL-A and copy it to notepad and print it out, if there isn't a print button -- although I think every EULA and TOS should have a clearly-marked button PLEASE PRINT THIS. (Just one more user-friendly thing. If the users want to ignore it, so be it.)
  • Strike this as another blow for clear wording -- and for editors whose jobs it is to ask the tough questions, think about the way things can be minsterpreted, and put it all in plain language. With the wider reach -- and potential misunderstanding -- of the Web, we clearly need more editors to do such things. AOL may have thought that was worded as clearly as a pane of glass (and maybe it was edited by other than the lawyers; I don't know). But another set of trained eyes often can see the opacity.

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