Bosses can eavesdrop on instant messages, thanks to new software

Instant messages, intercepted messages

An instant message exchange might seem as fleeting as a phone call or face-to-face chat. But, like everything else on the Net, it can have much more staying power than users think.

Unlike e-mail, the brief IM remarks that pop up on computer screens are not kept on central servers. But that hasn't stopped companies from developing software that snags every message — including those unflattering to the boss.

Interest in IM monitoring is soaring as companies not only look to record important communications but also control information leaks and discourage cyberslacking.

Skeptics say it's just another example of how privacy has all but disappeared in the workplace.

"Some of the practices are far too invasive," said Sarah Andrews, research director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "There should be limits on what they can or can't collect."

Just like e-mail or Web traffic, instant messages can be monitored by corporate network administrators — whether those messages are sent to colleagues using a company's own software or flashed to friends across oceans using freely available programs from America Online, Yahoo or Microsoft.

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