Sour Grapes
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Did AOL publish your personal information?

Dave Farber's IP list has a message today quoting Adam D'Angelo, who has information about AOL publishing the search logs of half a million of their users.

AOL just released the logs of all searches done by 500,000 of their users over the course of three months earlier this year. That means that if you happened to be randomly chosen as one of these users, everything you searched for from March to May (2006) is now public information on the internet.

This was not a leak - it was intentional....

Update: Seems like AOL took it down. There are some mirrors of the
data in the comments of the digg story, linked below. I estimate about
1000 people have the file, so it's definitely going to be circulated

As a follow-up, someone who wishes to remain anonymous made an alarming discovery.

A search for an SSN shaped regex on the full AOL search data returns a 191 results including repeat searches. Many of these have full names, and at least a dozen include either an addresses, drivers license number, date of birth or some combination of the three in the same query. There's no telling how much more information an aggregation of other queries by those same user ID would yield.

As I understand this, if any of these half million AOL subscribers searched for personal information about me during the months of March, April and May this year, the queries they used are now available to anyone with Internet access, even though AOL has had second thoughts and removed access from their site.

The latest from the IP list is that AOL has apologized:

"This was a screw-up, and we're angry and upset about it. It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant," AOL, a unit of Time Warner, said in a statement. "Although there was no personally identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this. It was a mistake, and we apologize. We've launched an internal investigation into what happened, and we are taking steps to ensure that this type of thing never happens again."

With some concern for the ethics of doing so, I invite you to take a look at some specific searches performed by AOL users and imagine what it would feel like to have your searches on display here [via Declan McCullagh's Politech list].

The New York Times was able to determine the identity of searcher #4417749—a 62-year-old widow from Lilburn, Georgia—obtain her picture and interview her [thanks to Michael Geist's Internet Law News].

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