Companies are being advised to keep archives of all their IM communications for at least three years. The National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), the US regulator of the Nasdaq and securities market, told its members to treat instant messages the same way they treat email in response to the growing use of the technology in large companies -- particularly finance houses.
Although IM started life as a chat tool for teenagers, the technology has some real advantages over email for the corporate user. For instance, messages are sent and received immediately with IM, so real-time textual conversations are possible. The ability to see a users' status without actually having to make contact makes collaborative and remote working more user-friendly, and many workers appreciate the lack of a message archive taking up server space. But it is this lack of archiving that is causing concern to the NASD.
"NASD recognises that instant messaging is becoming increasingly popular as a real-time method of communicating and we want to be clear about our expectations for its use," said Mary L. Schapiro, vice chairman and president of Regulatory Policy and Oversight at NASD, in a statement. "Firms have to remember that regardless of the informality of instant messaging, it is still subject to the same requirements as email communications and members must ensure that their use of instant messaging is consistent with their basic supervisory and record keeping obligations," she added.
The use of IM in the corporate market has become common, especially since the likes of Yahoo, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have launched corporate-specific IM products. But unregulated use of free IM products is rife in many companies.
Free IM products aimed at consumers -- such as Yahoo or MSN Messenger -- usually provide some sort of archive functionality, but unlike email, the company does not have enough power to monitor and save all communications.
The NASD has advised its members to treat IM communications the same way they treat written letters and emails. If this is not possible, the regulator recommends a complete ban on IM communications between staff and clients.
NASD's comments about companies putting a stop to their employees using free IM packages are expected to boost sales of corporate IM products.