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Initial releaseNovember 1996 (1996-11)
Stable release8.3.7317 / 28 December 2014; 50 days ago (2014-12-28)
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
TypeInstant messaging client
LicenseProprietary (Adware)
WebsiteOfficial website
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For other uses of ICQ, see ICQ (disambiguation).
Initial releaseNovember 1996 (1996-11)
Stable release8.3.7317 / 28 December 2014; 50 days ago (2014-12-28)
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
TypeInstant messaging client
LicenseProprietary (Adware)
WebsiteOfficial website

ICQ is an instant messaging computer program that was first developed and popularized by the Israeli company Mirabilis. Since 2010 it has been owned by Mail.Ru Group.

The ICQ client application and service were initially released in November 1996 and the client was freely available to download. Users could register an account and would be assigned a number, like a phone number, for others to be able to contact them (users could also provide handles). ICQ was the first stand-alone instant messenger service as such — while real-time chat was not in itself new to the internet (IRC being the most common platform at the time), the concept of a fully centralized service with individual user accounts focused on one-on-one conversations set the blueprint for later instant messaging services like AIM, and its influence is seen in modern social media applications.

At its peak around 2001, ICQ had over 100 million accounts registered.[1] At the time of the Mail.Ru acquisition in 2010, there were around 42 million daily users.[2]


Additional products[edit]

ICQ provides all users additional services and content products:

  1. ICQ TV—An online video magazine. The magazine broadcasts content for teens 24/7.
  2. ICQ SIM Card (together with United Mobile)—A SIM card that enables users traveling across Europe to use their cellular telephone while paying a discount price.
  3. ICQ Game Center—By clicking a button in the contact list, the game center is available for users. A games platform that enables the user to play with and/or against other users.
  4. ICQ2Go—A web instant messaging option for users who cannot download the program onto their computer (for various reasons, like firewall for instance). ICQ2Go uses a ‘port-80’ browser for this type of communication feature.
  5. ICQ for Mac (Beta)—Released in February 2010, a version of the client that was developed using the Adobe AIR platform, making it usable on additional operating systems which support the AIR runtime, such as Linux.[3]

Also, users can choose and select their own avatar for their profile page. In this way, they can protect their privacy.


ICQ users are identified by numbers called UIN, distributed in sequential order. The UIN was first invented by Mirabilis, as the user name assigned to each user upon registration. The meaning is either Universal Internet Number or Unified Identification Number. Issued UINs started at number "10000" (5 digits) and every user receives a UIN when first registering to ICQ. As of ICQ6, users are also able to log in using the specific e-mail address they associated with their UIN during the registration process. Unlike other instant messaging software or web applications, on ICQ the only permanent user info is the UIN, although it is possible to search for other users using their associated e-mail address or any other detail they have made public (by updating it in the public profile). In addition, the user can change all of his or her personal information, including screen name and e-mail address, without having to re-register. Since 2000, ICQ and AIM users are able to add each other to their contact list without the need for any external clients. As a response to UIN theft or sale of attractive UINs, ICQ started to store email addresses previously associated to a UIN.[4] As such, UINs that are stolen can sometimes be reclaimed. This applies only if (since 1999 onwards) a valid primary email address was entered into the user profile.


Mirabilis was first established in June 1996 by five Israelis: Yair Goldfinger, Sefi Vigiser, Amnon Amir, and Arik Vardi, plus Arik's father Yossi Vardi.[5] They recognized that many people were accessing the internet through non-UNIX operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, and those users were unfamiliar with established chat technologies, e.g. IRC.[citation needed]

The technology Mirabilis developed for ICQ was distributed free of charge. The technology's success encouraged AOL to acquire Mirabilis on June 8, 1998, for $287 million up front and $120 million in additional payments over three years based on performance levels.[6] At the time, this was the highest price ever paid to purchase an Israeli technology company.[citation needed] In 2002, AOL successfully patented the technology.[7]

After the purchase, the product was initially managed by Ariel Yarnitsky and Avi Shechter. ICQ's management changed at the end of 2003. Under the leadership of the new CEO, Orey Gilliam,[8] who also assumed the responsibility for all of AOL's messaging business in 2007, ICQ resumed its growth; it was not only a highly profitable company, but one of AOL's most successful businesses. Eliav Moshe replaced Gilliam in 2009 and became ICQ's managing director.[9]

In April 2010, AOL sold ICQ to Digital Sky Technologies, headed by Alisher Usmanov, for $187.5 million.[10] While ICQ was displaced by AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, and other competitors in the U.S. and many other countries over the 2000s, it remained the most popular instant messaging network in Russian-speaking countries, and an important part of online culture.[11] Popular UINs demanded over 11,000 rubles in 2010.[11]

In September of that year, Digital Sky Technologies changed its name to Mail.Ru Group. Since the acquisition, Mail.ru has invested in turning ICQ from a desktop client to a mobile messaging system. As of 2013, around half of ICQ’s users were using its mobile apps, and in 2014, the number of users began growing for the first time since the purchase.[2]

Development history[edit]


According to security analyst Jeffrey Carr, use of ICQ may cause security problems because it was purchased by Russian investment company Digital Sky Technologies. ICQ has fallen out of fashion in US and Britain, but it remains popular in Eastern Europe and Russia. Carr says the new ownership may be used by Russia's powerful secret service, the FSB (formerly the KGB) since Russian law, like the American law, requires ICQ to open its logs whenever they want.[12] Similar concerns apply to other instant messengers (see Skype security, YIM SPIM, AIM vulnerabilities etc.).


ICQ is often used for distribution of unwanted advertisement and spam.[13] This is facilitated by ICQ's use of usernames consisting of multiple-digit numbers.

Privacy and copyright[edit]

When accepting "ICQ Terms Of Service—Acceptable Use Policy" (2000), a user gives all the copyright in the posted information to ICQ Inc.[14] This implies that ICQ Inc. may publish, distribute etc. any messages sent through the system that could be meant to be private:

You agree that by posting any material or information anywhere on the ICQ Services and Information you surrender your copyright and any other proprietary right in the posted material or information. You further agree that ICQ Inc. is entitled to use at its own discretion any of the posted material or information in any manner it deems fit, including, but not limited to, publishing the material or distributing it.

ICQ accounts may be deleted by user. The web page no longer functions, giving "Invalid ICQ UIN, email address, or password. Please fill out the form again" error.

Pressure on alternative clients[edit]

AOL pursued an aggressive policy regarding alternative ("unauthorized") ICQ clients.

"Системное сообщение

ICQ не поддерживает используемую вами версию. Скачайте бесплатную авторизованную версию ICQ с официального web-сайта ICQ.

System Message

The version you are using is not supported by ICQ. Download a free authorized ICQ version from ICQ’s official website."

On icq.com[17] there is an "important message" for Russian-speaking ICQ users: "ICQ осуществляет поддержку только авторизированных версий программ: ICQ Lite и ICQ 6.5." ("ICQ supports only authorized versions of programs: ICQ Lite and ICQ 6.5.")


AOL's OSCAR network protocol used by ICQ is proprietary and using a third party client is a violation of ICQ Terms of Service, nevertheless a number of third-party clients have been created by using reverse-engineering and protocol descriptions. These clients include:

AOL supported clients include:

See also[edit]


External links[edit]