« ePassports Coming to the U.S. | Main | More Government Laptop/Data Follies »

August 8, 2006

AOL: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

AOL is under fire for posting samples of user searches to a web site.  Not just a few searches either, but 19,000,000 of them from 650,000 users.  These were recorded during March 1 to May 31 of this year.  The searches appeared in a single compressed file (440 megabytes) on a website called research.aol.com.  This is part of a project that involved academic research on searches.  The file contained no personal identification, substituting serial numbers for names.  The searches, however, contained all kinds of personally identifying information such as names, phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers amid all the other random searches.  News reports indicate this data set is similar to the type of information AOL and others released to the government as part of the COPA litigation.

AOL has removed the data from the web while executives are blasting the fact that it even happened.  Yup, it's a mistake all right.  In the end, though, some of the responsibility still lies with the person initiating the search.  Why put in social security numbers and other personal information in an insecure search?  While this instance focused on AOL, it could just as easily been Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, or any of the other search sites.  Be careful what you search unless you don't care who may see it.

Stories are in Forbes, the Baltimore Sun, Time, and the BBC.

August 8, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference AOL: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:


Post a comment