AOL Releases Massive Amount of Search Data
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. The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box.
The most serious problem is the fact that many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with “buy ecstasy” and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless.
This is search data for roughly 658,000 anonymized users over a three month period from March to May—about 1/3 of 1 per cent of their total data for that period.
Now AOL says it was all a mistake. They pulled the data, but it’s still still out there—and probably will be forever. And there’s some pretty scary stuff in it.
You can read more on Slashdot and elsewhere.
Anyone who wants to play NSA can start datamining for terrorists. Let us know if you find anything.
EDITED TO ADD (8/9): The New York Times:
And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”
It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. “Those are my searches,” she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.
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