AOL rewrites terms to clear blog confusion

NEW YORK: AOL changed the wording of its Instant Messenger (IM) terms of service policy last week after a blogger's misinterpretation landed in the mainstream media.

NEW YORK: AOL changed the wording of its Instant Messenger (IM) terms of service policy last week after a blogger's misinterpretation landed in the mainstream media.

On March 11, blogger Ben Stanfield, the proprietor of Thrashing Through Cyberspace, touched off a chain of events by posting his interpretation of AOL's terms of service. Stanfield asserted that the company reserved the right to monitor and republish IM conversations at its discretion.

The story was quickly picked up by other bloggers and eventually written about by eWeek, a publication focusing on technology issues. The Drudge Report then included a link to the eWeek story.

By March 14, AOL had rewritten its terms of service, clarifying those areas that had caused confusion.

"Although the terms of service were clear legally, it was 'inartfully' worded, so we made an internal decision to clarify what was said," said Andrew Weinstein, AOL's VP of corporate communications. "It's a positive statement for what a company like AOL can do to rapidly address concerns. It would have taken [other firms] a month or more to change internal policy."

AOL maintains that the policy was a year old and obfuscated by legalese. The company credits the confusion to a passage informing the user that content posted in a public area can be seen by other users. IM conversations have always remained private, Weinstein said, and the new terms of service spell that out in greater detail and plainer language.

To set the record straight, Weinstein posted comments on blogs and reached out to eWeek on Sunday. However, the magazine didn't update the story until Monday, causing further confusion.

"We're guilty of not getting the update up [earlier]," Ryan Naraine, senior writer at eWeek.com, said. He cited the absence of a copy editor for the delay.

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