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AOL releases search data on 650,000 users

Posted By Bill Larson On Monday, August 7, 2006 @ 6:18 pm In News | No Comments

The AOL corporate logoSlashdot [1] is running a story on AOL [2] (Time Warner [3]) releasing the search queries for 650,000 aol users [4]. They hid the userid by changing it to a random number for each user. While they did this with the best of intentions(for research purposes), the problem is the type of stuff that people search for. This might include their names, friends, family members, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers. All of this can lead to your identity being easily discovered, or stolen.

AOL has released the search logs of over 650,000 users for research purposes. This looks like it may become a public relations disaster for AOL, as well as a privacy nightmare for the users involved [5] as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch notes: “AOL has released very private data about its users without their permission. While the AOL username has been changed to a random ID number, the ability to analyze all searches by a single user will often lead people to easily determine who the user is, and what they are up to [6]. The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box.” – An anonymous submitter to Slashdot

AOL is in damage control mode and has apologized for the release [7], but once something is released to the Internet it is almost impossible to remove it again [8].

Think about all of your web searches over the year, is this information something that you would want to be made public even if they didn’t out and out give your name. I have a simple question why is anyone still an AOL customer? Oh that’s right they are the company which will not let you quit!

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URLs in this post:

[1] Slashdot: http://www.slashdot.org/

[2] AOL: http://www.aol.com/

[3] Time Warner: http://www.timewarner.com/corp/

[4] the search queries for 650,000 aol users: http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/08/07/2022244

[5] privacy nightmare for the users involved: http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/06/aol-proudly-releases-massive-amounts-of-user-search-data/

[6] what they are up to: http://plentyoffish.wordpress.com/2006/08/07/aol-search-data-shows-users-planning-to-commit-murder/

[7] apologized for the release: http://news.com.com/2100-1030_3-6102793.html?tag=nefd.top

[8] almost impossible to remove it again: http://www.gregsadetsky.com/aol-data/

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