Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tech Crunch, AOL Search Releases Private Search Logs For Over 500,000 Searchers

According to Tech Crunch, AOL Search has released 20 million web queries from 650,000 AOL users:
The utter stupidity of this is staggering.

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 abilitiy 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.

Obviously, this is a gross invasion of privacy, security, common sense, you name it. AOL has always struggled to keep itself from being overly demonized in the eyes of the consumer, yet keeps digging holes for itself to climb out of. I have NO idea how it's going to cover this one; this is a PR nightmare.

Here is how this affects you if you are an AOL customer:

  • All usernames in the search logs have been changed to random numbers. However, if someone really wanted to, they could group all the searches together from one user and eventually figure out who someone is. If they wanted to. It's really not that difficult.
  • If you've input personal information, you might be in trouble. If you are an AOL user and have for some reason typed in your social security number, your first and last name (vanity searches, we've all done them!), your birthday, etc., then dedicated search miners will have all they need to start stealing your identity.
So what can you do? Unfortunately, the data is already out there - Google still has a cached version, and at least one mirror site has popped up. If you have searched on AOL in the last six months, and have searched for anything that might be embarrassing or a potential breach to security, I suggest that you watch your personal identity and information very carefully.


  • Ten Ways To Keep Your Search History Private: Events such as AOL's release of private search history have prompted many search engine users to be a bit more cautious with their searching habits. Now, most of us have no need to hide our search history, but there's no harm in more cautious Web surfing. Here are a few ways you can keep your searching history private.
  • Search Engines and Internet Privacy: Ever wondered what a search engine's privacy policy looks like? Here's a few for you the next time you'd like some light reading.
  • Anonymous Surfing 101: Are you concerned about privacy on the Web? Then anonymous surfing, the ability to surf the Web without being tracked, is for you. Here are some frequently asked questions about anonymous Web surfing.
  • Internet Safety Checklist: The Internet is a vast resource of information. There's a good reason why it's called the "Information Superhighway!" However, just like you as a responsible parent would not let your children run around on the highway unsupervised, it's also a good idea not to let them run around the Net without your input.
  • Free Adware and Spyware Removers On The Web: If you've ever had weird pop-up windows that just won't go away, hijacked browser settings, internet preferences inexplicably changed, or a very slow web search experience, than you've most likely been the victim of spyware, adware, or malware.
Ref. here

1 comment:

Martin Greif said...

The problem with any site that requires a log in is that everything you do can be tracked by them. AOL is certainly no exception. The best way to defeat this is to have multiple user accounts for any site you use. Then use an anonymous proxy to route your traffic. For many, this is definitely overkill. However, if you are worried about your privacy, you might consider this level of hiding your traces.