Business Instant Messaging

Closed Systems Pose Security Risks For Their Users

The communications protocols for the big IM platforms are proprietary to their makers, and are not openly documented or shared. End-user communications must also pass through centralized servers from one of these providers, which leaves those users at the mercy of those organizations, upon whom they must depend to expose and maintain the interfaces between these various IM services. When IM communications can be encrypted at user discretion, such encryption is based on proprietary algorithms, and most often works only when the persons with whom they're communicating use the same IM client software. Most communications using current IM programs is best regarded as a form of insecure data exchange. These can be sniffed and read in the clear, which presents a serious potential security risk, especially for business use.

Restrictive End-User Agreements And Use Conditions

In addition to the security risks that some IM platforms pose - including those from Microsoft, America Online, ICQ Inc. and Yahoo, because they use unencrypted messaging - the terms and conditions governing use of these services also weigh against them. For example, both AOL and Microsoft forbid users from accessing their IM services using unlicensed, third-party client software, including popular multi-protocol IM tools. This means that programs such as Trillian and Miranda may work with these services sometimes, and fail at other times, because they're only tolerated by the service providers, who take no responsibility to help keep these programs operational.

Even more galling is the condition that simply by using the ICQ IM network, all transmissions become the intellectual property of ICQ, Inc., as stated clearly in that company's Acceptable Use Policy (Quote: "You agree that by posting any material or information anywhere on the ICQ Services and Information you surrender your copyright and any other proprietary right in the posted material or information. You further agree that ICQ Inc. is entitled to use at its own discretion any of the posted material or information in any manner it deems fit, including, but not limited to, publishing the material or distributing it.") Microsoft's conditions are less onerous, but also troubling, in that they grant the public free permission to "use, copy, distribute, display, publish and modify your submission, each in connection with the service; publish your name in connection with your submission; and grant these permissions to other persons." Likewise, AOL doesn't slouch in assuming ownership, either, and obtains "irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt, and promote this Content in any medium." Talk about giving away the farm!

In short, using any of the current IM software solutions is something of a risky business for users, thanks to such aggressive assertion of rights to the content they carry by the providers. If adoption of these services was based solely on the terms and conditions that govern their use, AIM, ICQ, and other IM services would surely have died off by now. What reasonable business gladly surrenders its rights without gaining something substantial in return?

Marcel Binder
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