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IRSeeK: Bless or Curse?

An Israelian startup company named IRSeeK has started a debate in the IRC community. The company started to log IRC chats and make them available through a search engine on their website.

In the past the logging of IRC channels without the consent or approval of the channel owners and visitors caused great discussion several times. Most often the motives behind these logging bots were to monitor the channels for illegal filetrading, carding and similar criminal offenses.

IRSeeK about its service: “IRSeek utilizies the power of the people on IRC and brings it to the rest of the community to enjoy and learn from.” According to the company IRC remains an important way to transfer knowledge between its users. “www.IRSeek.com (still in Beta) strives to make this hidden gem available to the entire Internet community. By constantly archiving thousands of active, highly-focused, public chat-rooms in a wide variety of topics (e.g. Linux, soccer, Christianity, poker, business and others) then indexing, processing and publishing the content on the web using advanced Web 2.0 technologies while maintaining the privacy of the users, we are creating a knowledge base different from any other.”

Nonetheless the operation started quietly and many channels were being monitored and logged without the knowledge of its operators. The bots were unrecognizable as such and they gave a mIRC client CTCP version response.

A group of worried IRC users have opened a wiki about IRSeeK.

According to the company itself over 300 million conversations have been logged on multiple IRC networks including EFnet, DALnet, Freenode, QuakeNet and Undernet. A total of 2000 channels are currently being monitored.

Network admin Christel of Freenode: “We are, to say the least appalled and shocked to learn about the site. We’ve been in contact with them and requested that they stop logging on freenode asap and requested removal of all logs.” Additionally Christel explained Freenode will contact its lawyer to see if additional steps will be taken against the company.

Since the discussion started IRSeeK decided to take down the search interface on its website. In their blog they respond to the uproar: “Due to the concerns of our users, we’ve decided that for the time being, until we figure out a satisfactory solution(s) to the users concerns, we have disabled the site.”

Reading the blog one is wondering whether the people behind the company have been IRC users themselves for an considerable amount of time. One can read the same replies as with previous similar projects, such as the chats being public and being logged by private users as well.

The company is currently looking if it can solve the concerns raised by anonymizing the nicks, an op-out system, making the bots recognizable with a link and explaining the policies on their website.