AOL released over 500,000 search logs from users. These logs were made during March to May 2006.
These seach logs are only a part of AOL has in stores. They released these to gain some publicity but I think they did wrong. This way they showed everyone that every move you make on their website is monitored.
This is a rude violation of users’ privacy. The data is “anonymized”, which to AOL means that each screenname was replaced with a unique number. “It is still a research question how much information needs to be anonymized to protect users,” says Abdur from AOL.
Here are some examples of what you can find in the data:
User 491577 searches for “florida cna pca lakeland tampa”, “emt school training florida”, “low calorie meals”, “infant seat”, and “fisher price roller blades”. Among user 39509′s hundreds of searches are: “ford 352″, “oklahoma disciplined pastors”, “oklahoma disciplined doctors”, “home loans”, and some other personally identifying and illegal stuff I’m going to leave out of here. Among user 545605′s searches are “shore hills park mays landing nj”, “frank william sindoni md”, “ceramic ashtrays”, “transfer money to china”, and “capital gains on sale of house”. Compared to some of the data, these examples are on the safe side. I’m leaving out the worst of it – searches for names of specific people, addresses, telephone numbers, illegal drugs, and more. There is no question that law enforcement, employers, or friends could figure out who some of these people are.
It’s unclear if this is the type of data AOL released to the government back when Google refused to comply. If nothing else, this should be a good example of why search history needs strong privacy protection.
If you want some of the data, because it was now removed from the web and only a couple of people managed to get a peak at it, you can find a cache from Google here.Let’s hope that the numbers won’t get reverted and instead on numbers we will get names. Now that will be interesting and at the same time rude.