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Reader Questions IM Privacy at Work

By March 15, 2008

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In this week's mailbag, the issue of instant messaging in the workplace becomes a concern for one company IM user:

Q: The company I work for recently unrolled the Spark instant messenger as a means to communicate between departments and other offices. What do you know about this messenger? Are they trying to Big Brother us? --V.C.

Dear V.C.:

Unlike standard consumer instant messengers, Spark is an open-source IM client designed with businesses and organizations in mind. While the messenger works similarly to more popular IMs, including features such as group chat, file transfer and IM tabbing, do not assume your messaging is private.

According to Jive Software, Spark's developer, this client (also known as an enterprise IM) offers business administrators the power to assert one thing they don't have with AIM or Yahoo!--control. Openfire, a server used in conjunction with Spark, "supports customizable archiving capabilities, compliance monitoring tools, and archive search capabilities..."

In plain English: Your company has the ability to monitor your conversations through Spark, so be careful with the issues you discuss over this and any IM client, for that matter. Most companies have extensive networks, with IT departments capable of searching any and all computers connected to it. Therefore, your AIM transcripts could just as easily be accessed as Spark or any other enterprise IM logs.

Bottom Line: Be careful with your workplace IMs and re-think your messages before you send them in the future.

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