Searching online has changed the world as we know it. Now everything we need to know is virtually available within the few seconds of a click. “The best restaurants in New Jersey,” or information on “singles dances,” or even “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga.”
This week, AOL breached users’ rights of privacy by releasing data on over 650,000 user search habits during the past 6 months. Sure, this type of data is culled by the search properties all the time. Yet never has this data been posted publicly in one of the biggest blunders recorded by traditional media moguls like the New York Times and has set the blog world to wear down their keyboards.
AOL was attempting to provide search data from random users for the “research community”. The data comes from searches done within the AOL client from March through May of this year. They felt that the users were protected as they were “anonymized,” as AOL puts it, by replacing their screen name with a number.
While you can still get the data online, we felt that it makes no sense at this point to further perpetuate this blunder by linking here. Unfortunately, AOL’s attempts at anonymity were pedestrian at best. The data not only provides search phrase, but also the search request time, dates and the site they landed on as a result.
While it’s the kind of marketing information we drool for, it certainly is not the way to obtain it. And unfortunately, since the users are totally unsuspecting that their privacy is about to be violated, searches using credit card numbers, social security numbers and other sensitive data is also included.
In a story released by the Times on August 9th, we meet AOL user No. 4417749, known to her friends as Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, GA. The article clearly shows the ability to track a person’s identity simply by a little CSI work on their search habits.
What was AOL thinking??? And what will Google say, especially since holding their grounds against the DOJ??? We’ll wait and see…