While I was writing my last entry, about people who offend others in chat or IM, the topic of chat logs came to mind...so, while I am thinking about it, let's talk about that, shall we?
Linden Lab logs EVERYTHING. Well, not Voice, although I bet they can listen in if they want to. But they do log everything that is typed in text. I sometimes imagine some pimply-faced geeky temp worker at LL, calling up some of my more intimate discussions, and shudder. The non-private nature of Second Life is one of the reasons that corporate users don't trust the platform for anything involving sensitive or proprietary material. Still, it's sometimes useful to know that, if you get into a serious dispute with someone, there is an impartial (hopefully!) third party who has access to who said what to whom.
You can log everything, too. There are settings in your Preferences (in the Privacy tab) for turning logging of local chat and IMs on or off. You can specify a directory on your computer's hard drive where these logs will be stored. The default is C:\users\username\AppData\Roaming\SecondLife\avatar_name. (This is a hidden folder. If you don't see it, turn on the visibility of hidden folders in Tools/Folder Options/View in any Windows directory window.)
In that folder, you will see many text files, each with the name of an avatar, or a group, with whom you have had an IM window open. Each of these files represents a log of all the IMs you have had with that avatar or group. Whenever you add a new IM session, the .txt file is updated.
You will also see a text file called chat.txt. This is the log of your local chat. It can get unmanageably large...I open mine up several times a year, Cut off the oldest three months or so, and Paste that older data into a new file called, say, OldChatJanMarch2011.txt.
There are some restrictions on what you can do with this data. You can cut and paste relevant sections of your log to document a case of Abuse, when you are submitting an Abuse Report. Please remember that LL also keeps their own logs...DON'T edit yours to make yourself look better, or the other person look worse. You can also use your logs to refresh your memory about what was said in a previous conversation.
You may NOT share your chat or IM log data with any third party besides Linden Lab, unless you have the permission of all the other persons involved. It is a violation of the Terms of Service. Doing things like posting your logs on the Second Life forums, on your blog or website, or in a notecard you give to anyone else in SL is a No-No.*
There are people who try to get around this. They put a notice in their Profile that says, "I log chat and IMs and reserve the right to do whatever I want with them. If you talk to me, you give your consent to this." Such declarations have no legal force and the avatars who hide behind them will find that they provide no defense.
There are, I admit, some gray areas, particularly in the case of roleplay areas. In many of these areas, local chat is used for roleplay, and IMs are used for "out of character" communications. The rules of the roleplay area may state that a moderator can ask for your chat log, to adjudicate a dispute. By participating in the roleplay, you agree to such rules and don't really have grounds to complain when the roleplay area's owners or moderators insist you abide by them.
*Technically, that is. In practice, people violate this every day in Second Life. "OMG, take a look at what Studlyman Resident just said to me! <Pasted IM conversation>" I've done it, and I bet you've done it too. The practical consideration is intent, in my opinion. If you intend harm to someone by passing on a conversation they expected to be kept in confidence, you're doing wrong. If you just want to share a giggle with your friend, or pass on complex technical information...it's still a violation, but (again, in my opinion) a peccadillo.