June 19, 2003 6:12 AM PDT

Securities group: Treat IM like e-mail

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Instant messages should be treated the same as e-mail messages and archived for three years, the Nasdaq's regulator is telling its members.

The National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) has made the announcement in response to the growing use of the technology in large companies--particularly in financial houses.

Although IM started as a chat tool for teens, the technology has some advantages over e-mail for corporate workers. For instance, messages are sent and received immediately with IM, so real-time text conversations are possible.

The ability to see IM users' status without actually having to make contact also makes collaborative and remote working easier, 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 at the NASD.

"NASD recognizes 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," Mary L. Schapiro, president of regulatory policy and oversight at NASD, said in a statement.

"Firms have to remember that regardless of the informality of instant messaging, it is still subject to the same requirements as e-mail 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 arena 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 Messenger or MSN Messenger--usually provide some archive capability, but not enough power to monitor and save all communications.

NASD has advised its members to treat IM communications the same way they treat written letters and e-mail. If this is not possible, the regulator recommends a complete ban on IM communications between staff and clients.

The comments from NASD about companies putting a stop to their employees using free IM packages are expected to boost sales of corporate IM products.

ZDNet UK's Munir Kotadia reported from London.

 

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