Instant messaging concerns catch software firms' attention

Monday, August 5, 2002

This spring, America Online Inc. announced that it was working on a new version of instant messaging that would be custom-made for businesses.

"Corporations are asking for it," says AOL spokeswoman Catherine Corre. AOL is working with VeriSign on a product that will encrypt messages but still let people communicate with current AOL Instant Messenger users.

AOL may in fact be launching this new product in self-defense. Michael Gartenberg, of Jupiter Research in New York, thinks many corporations will react to instant-messaging trouble by banning the use of such commercial IM systems as Instant Messenger.

For those that don't go cold turkey, he expects stricter rules about documenting all incoming and outgoing communication. Gartenberg says any company that doesn't think messaging is a potential problem is "delusional."

New concern over keeping and monitoring electronic mail at businesses has not escaped the notice of software firms dedicated to Internet detective work.

Akonix of San Diego this month introduced a new instant-message-tracking program. Ascentive in Philadelphia launched its product last year.

Software created by SpectorSoft of Vero Beach, Fla., takes pictures of everything a person does online, including Web surfing and messaging. The customer decides whether the snapshots are taken every second, every minute or at some other interval. Sales this year have doubled, says company president Doug Fowler, and they had tripled the previous year. One of SpectorSoft's recent add-ons is Chat Recorder, which automatically records all instant messages.

"Companies are just becoming more aware of abuse," says Fowler.

His customers are looking for workers who spend all day on the Internet, who frequent porn sites and who send instant messages with disparaging information about the company. Fowler says one customer found out that an employee was embezzling money; another found that workers were running other businesses on company time or looking for new jobs all day.

When Fowler started his business in 1999, most of his clients were husbands and wives trying to prove infidelity and parents looking for teenagers' mentions of drug use or secret romances."

This year, about 40 percent of SpectorSoft's income is from corporate customers, including law firms, banks and media organizations.

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