As pointed out recently by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a new logging feature introduced into AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) raises many privacy concerns. However, Mac users may not be aware that iChat uses the AIM service.
Dan Miller at Macworld said he had downloaded the preview version of AOL's new AIM client software, which will handle AIM messages as well as Facebook and Twitter messages. He closed the application and went back to iChat, his usual messaging client. "That's when the weird stuff started happening:...," he wrote. Suddenly, his iChat chats sported a warning that links and such would be logged.
Now, remember, that conversation was happening in iChat, not the in new AIM client. Yet AOL was still injecting that message into chats happening via my AIM account. And it happened anytime I tried chatting with anyone, or they with me, via that account. Even after I deleted every vestige of the AIM client that I could find on my system, the messages persisted.
The Mac Security Blog warns that AIM will log chats up to two months, but who knows, it could be longer.
Another element of the new AIM is that the program scans all URLs in chats, in order to attempt to embed photos or videos in chat windows. Even if these links don’t lead to photos or videos, they are scanned and stored in logs. Yet this, too, cannot be turned off. The EFF says that, “it does not look like there will be a way to permanently opt out of the link downloading behavior.” It addition, “Since conversations can only be marked “off the record” from inside the new AIM, users of older versions or alternate clients will always be prone to having some of the links they send scraped, even though they won’t see them rendered.”
Alarming. Perhaps it's time for Apple to switch to another service provider? Or get into the messaging business?