Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

One of the extremely common questions I get is how to hack into someone else's instant messaging history, or how to recover an IM chat that may, or may not, have been archived.

Those answers vary based on the instant messaging client that you are using. But there's something else recently discovered that's much more disturbing.

AOL has the right to read, and even publish publicly, your private IM conversations.


As reported recently by Aunty-Spam, the AOL terms of service for AOL Instant Messenger includes this very clear, and very scary phrase: "You waive any right to privacy." It goes on to discuss how AOL may use your instant messages in any way it sees fit, at any time.

Again, I say, Yikes!

Now, I doubt seriously whether AOL is interested in the gushing's of a 13 year old IMing her best friend of the week wondering her boyfriend's really 'all that' or not. But, as I've commented on before, people are using free services for business-critical purposes. Are you using AIM to discuss sensitive, private material? What would happen to you, or your business, if AOL decided that your conversation was a good example to publish on the web for all to see?

All together now: Yikes!

So don't. Personally, I'd run away from AOL Instant Messenger (and ICQ, which is owned by AOL and has the same terms of service) for anything that you wouldn't want the world to see. In a business setting? Using an encrypted, business class IM solution. But run away from the free solutions. As with free email, you're just asking for problems.

Article C2305 - March 14, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Larry Osterman
March 15, 2005 2:34 PM

To be fair, that is the exact same ToS that every online publisher has.

They need to have all those legal terms to publish your content.

In other words, since your content is YOUR content, you need to approve AOL's publishing YOUR content on THEIR web site.

The same thing happened with MSN spaces, and again it was a tempest in a teacup.

Here's more info from Snopes:

March 15, 2005 6:07 PM

I don't know if it's the EXACT same wording. The AIM TOS was very ambiguous, and could, in fact, be interpreted to mean all your *private* IM's are their's for the having. As it turns out, because of the ruckus, they plan to clarify their TOS soon.

April 2, 2005 2:09 PM

Is the same true for MSN Instant Messenger? That is, can someone be reading your conversation while you don't know they are there? "Hack" into the conversation?

April 2, 2005 2:15 PM

Well, this article covered AOL's Terms Of Service ... and AOL's explicitly said that *they* could read and republish your IM conversations at will. They've since clarified their terms of service.

Microsoft's TOS are different, I believe.

But to answer you question about "hacking", which is something else ... yes, of course, it's possible, though difficult, to hack and listen in on an IM conversation. It depends on many MANY things, but possible? Yes.

April 2, 2005 2:29 PM

Thank you, Leo. I've been using MSN IM at work and I'm concerned that someone in our IS department could hack into my conversations. How difficult is it? How much effort would they have to put into doing it?

April 2, 2005 2:31 PM

Like I said, it depends on many things, so it's hard to say just how hard it would be.

catherine hencken
April 21, 2005 12:03 PM

Leo - I am a user of AIM at home and I want to archive my instant messages, but can't figure out how to turn on the archival feature. Can you tell me how?

April 29, 2005 9:02 AM

hey, my names gabrielle, im a hacker. i HAVE hacked into friends instant messages, and its not as hard as people make it sound. the easiest way is if you get a a computer (at the library, at school, at your home) that the person has ben on. all you have to do is download. im ion my frens screen names all the time. so yes, it is possible, and sometimes VERY easy. ne ?s, just im me on a screen name ive ben using 2 tok 2 people hoo want 2 no more. its amandababy999, its on aol, neway, l8r yall!!!

April 29, 2005 9:18 AM

IMO: that's not hacking, that's just taking advantage of someone's carelessness. But yes, public or shared computers are a HUGE risk for your privacy, and as you can see from the previous poster, easy pickin's if you're not careful.

July 5, 2005 11:44 PM


July 6, 2005 8:45 PM


July 14, 2005 5:05 PM

How do I read someone else's MSN convo history with a specific person without going onto their computer or anything? aka actually hack it not take advantage of carelessness

July 15, 2005 10:20 AM

You don't. Not only it is technically impossible, but it's unethical and quite probably illegal.

July 16, 2005 9:23 PM

Thats kinda disturbing... I mean really, think about it... If AOL(tm) is monitoring your personal conversations they are basicalling getting first person access to the private details of your life... And I know alot of people who often vent their rage over AIM and make threats that could be considered "Incriminating" and "Premeditation" to terrible events like school shootings and what not... So if AIM happened to be monitoring a conversation of that nature they could easily turn it over to the athorities...

July 24, 2005 2:06 PM

how do i bring back old instant message convos on aim to get inforamtion i accidently "xed" out

July 29, 2005 3:06 PM

can you protect your aim convos from being hacked into?

July 30, 2005 4:50 PM

Not really, no. It's not easy to hack into, though.

August 4, 2005 8:36 PM

how do I know if my parents are reading my convorsations on aim(like is there a system scan I can do?)

September 1, 2005 3:50 PM

how do i hack into a msn account

September 1, 2005 4:16 PM

You don't. It would be wrong.

September 26, 2005 8:00 AM

I want to know the best way/program I can get to read my teenage daughter's msn instant messages. I don't have a concern with the web pages and other sites. I know there is an option to save history on msn but she knows how to uncheck the box. I just don't want anything too hi-tech because I work at home and there is a lot of business that I do from these two computers myself. HELP!!

September 26, 2005 8:41 AM

I believe has some recommendations.

January 18, 2006 10:54 AM

i have a legal accusation that i can only settle if i have an old instant message and i dont know how to find it on aol 9.0 can you please help me as soon as possible

February 12, 2006 3:10 PM

how do you find an old conversation you had with someone if you never saved it. Like all the conversations are usually saved to ur computer automatically but how do i find them>? please email me and let me know

February 12, 2006 7:20 PM

You don't. If you didn't save it, there's nothing to find.

February 19, 2006 5:09 PM

can you tell me how to delete my instant messages after im done?

June 22, 2006 12:43 PM

so my boyfriend && me had some really private conversations and his dad just told him he is getting a program to recover all of his past IM that possible??

Leo A. Notenboom
June 22, 2006 12:45 PM

Maybe. It depends on what programs you used, whether or not either of you had "save conversations" turned on, and whether his dad had already installed monitoring software on the machine or his network.

In most caes the answer is simply "no", but ya never know. He could be bluffing ... or not.

June 22, 2006 2:02 PM

i had a very important aim conversation just recently and accidently X'd the window. is there a way i can recover and get that conversation back?

Leo A. Notenboom
June 22, 2006 2:04 PM

That's this article:

August 31, 2006 10:28 PM

For windows messenger on win xp there are no message archiving options as such,but still does windows messenger archive the chat messages in some location by default??

March 2, 2007 7:50 PM

Leo! Does a history delete clear IM text from my computer.Info i need to know.

Leo A. Notenboom
March 3, 2007 9:56 AM

Hash: SHA1

No, not normally. There are tools out there that will, but the default
in Windows and IE is that they just don't know about all the possible IM
programs you could be running, so they wouldn't know what to delete.

Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


May 9, 2007 9:23 PM

If a friend logged in at her house on my name and I came home and logged in on my name, would her chat be on my computer at home?

May 15, 2007 3:33 PM

is their a way to veiw old conversations even if their not saved on my computer

May 15, 2007 3:47 PM

Hash: SHA1


Not unless you get a court order and get the IM service to provide
them if they've saved them at all, which is also unlikely.

So once again: no.

Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


May 24, 2007 4:54 PM

My boyfriend and I have had private convos on AIM and my mother "womehow" dug them up. Now she is questioning all of our IMs. How do I go and delete the convos before she can get to them? Better yet, how can i get access to them?

June 3, 2007 7:57 AM

I have private convos with my friends all the time on AIM. My mom somehow always seems to read them and i don't know how. It is my convo and she has no right to read them. How can i get access to them after i X out of the convo box? How can i read them before she can?

July 30, 2007 8:02 PM

how do I get rid of AIM convos? when I have a boyfriend i had some pretty private convos I dont want my mother to see

August 15, 2007 3:53 PM

LEO!! my mother is secretly reading my IMs how can i prevent that and make sure they are deleted?? HELP! she needs to trust me and not invade my privacy!

October 5, 2007 9:19 PM

this is not true, and this is the website to prove that it is not true, stating that AIM does not read your private AIM conversations, which they rightfully shouldn't ...

November 4, 2007 3:30 PM

I am a mom and want to know how to look at my son's (14) IM conversations after he has logged out. Is it possible?

October 19, 2008 2:30 PM

Is there way for me to recover or view old IM conversations with another AOL member. If so, how.

February 18, 2009 3:33 AM

see when you compromise your sons privacy that he trusts you respect BARBRA you lose your sons trust. I know your a mom but for him to feel safe and able to talk to you you cant dig it invades him makes him feel unsafe and violated if he cant feel safe at home where will he get that security from? Think before you violate your own child's privacy. I'm just recommending this you don't have to but just give a little more trust a relationship with your child works both ways.

February 18, 2009 8:45 AM

If you are worried about anyone reading or creating a log of your instant messaging conversations, you can use a private instant messaging program. I am a blogger for Brosix, and they offer a corporate and a free version of their program, which is on secure servers so no one can hack into and save or read your conversations.

Brosix Blog

May 18, 2009 6:32 PM

you go to actions, then clear history so ur mom cant read them

October 30, 2009 8:47 AM

is there a way that you can make your aim logs private
January 23, 2010 6:52 AM

Use private IM software with strong encryption to be sure that your conversations and file transfers are safe.

October 30, 2010 9:04 PM

If AOL is the owner of my transcripts, there is a way I could read them online? I mean, can I see my historial without login at AIM server?

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