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AOL Releases Search Logs of 657,427 Users 346

Posted by timothy
from the give-or-take dept.
An anonymous reader writes "AOL has released the search logs of over 650,000 users for research purposes. This looks like it may become a public relations disaster for AOL, as well as a privacy nightmare for the users involved as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch notes: "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." This is also being covered on The Paradigm Shift and Oh My News." fantomas adds " Looks like they've just taken it down but it's still available on The Pirate Bay; not sure why but some of the academic researchers are going crazy musing the ethical aspects of letting the world know who's searching for how to kill their wives ..." Update: 08/07 21:32 GMT by T : amromousa writes "AOL is now apologizing for the release ..., calling it a "screw-up," which they're upset and angry about."
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AOL Releases Search Logs of 657,427 Users

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  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:43PM (#15861317) Journal

    Finally, for all my support nightmares AOL users I know (and there are many!) that I endured over the years, a misstep that may offend and bother them as much as supporting AOL has bothered me for the last bazillion years. Go away AOL! (But, leave a few of your coasters at the store counters, those did come in kind of handy.)

    So, all of that aside (the court of public opinion stipulates AOL as stupid and insensitive), how equally egregious and offensive is others would propogate and perpetuate this misguided release of data? Any mirrors still carrying this information (and they are there) serves few purposes for continuing to provide access, and none are defensible: either they are happy and willing to allow potentially embarassing or damaging data to continue to be distributed, or they are sticking it to AOL when AOL has already fallen on their own sword -- enough is enough. It's not okay.

    (So, how many wives are either not going to be home tonight, or are going to fix hubby his very favorite dish?)

    • by 'nother poster (700681) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:49PM (#15861365)
      (So, how many wives are either not going to be home tonight, or are going to fix hubby his very favorite dish?)

      I bet the guy works for Rockstar games and is simply researching their next big hit. "Slap the Ho!" Where you put up with yo biotches shit till...
    • by Richy_T (111409) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:50PM (#15861372) Homepage
      Me too.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:53PM (#15861400)
      > (So, how many wives are either not going to be home tonight, or are going to fix hubby his very favorite dish?)

      You keep making oblique references to steak and cheese [urbandictionary.com]. I do not think that phrase means what you think it means.

      (If it's 17556639's favorite dish, maybe his wife is looking forward to death.)

      • Link probably not work safe.

        And vaguely disturbing that it apparently happens enough to have an official slang term.
    • by Irish_Samurai (224931) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:05PM (#15861518)
      So, how many wives are either not going to be home tonight, or are going to fix hubby his very favorite dish?

      You're probably just trying to be funny, but this could be a real problem. I know I have had some seriously bizarre search historys when doing research on possible articles to write in my lame ass vanity site. They could very easily be taken out of context and used to make me look like a sicko instead of a cynic who wanted some of the bizarre material that non fiction can provide.

      Maybe this guy is doing some research on a book. Maybe he's an artist doing some death metal band's cover. Hell, maybe they have a socially retarded CS major for a dorm mate and are trying to freak them out.

      It's the ridiculous release of this type of data and the sensationalist warping of these smallest elements that allow our privacy to get train wrecked.
    • Is AOL really the worst? It's good they publically screwed up but others have been doing the same thing behind your back for years. Most spyware, like Microsoft Windows, comes with an EULA that grants the supplier complete ability to monitor what you do and sell the results to the highest bidder. All of the ISPs, by law, must keep your web activity and email on file so that the feds can come and look through it. Do you trust them to not mine and sell it? Before 9/11 justified all sorts of invasive beha
  • by StarvingSE (875139) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:44PM (#15861326)
    personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box.

    Who in their right mind would type their social security number in a search box, in plain text??? I mean, really???
    • by RonnyJ (651856) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:46PM (#15861338)
      AOL users! ;)
    • Keep in mind that this is an AOL search box the lowest common denominator of internet users. They probably still find Hampster dance funny.
    • What makes you think someone is searching for their own SSN?
      Isn't it possible someone is searching for information on someone else? Checking to see if someone has listed their SSN else-where would help to narrow the scope of targets for data theives.

      But yeah, you're probably right. Someone probably searched for their SSN to see if anybody who had taken it would use it somewhere in plain text, and assumed that the information they were passing to their trusted ISP was secure. Hah, imagine that, trusting a
    • by cbr2702 (750255) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:53PM (#15861406) Homepage
      Who in their right mind would type their social security number in a search box, in plain text??? I mean, really???

      Maybe they want to be sure no one's posted it anywhere?

    • by The Good Reverend (84440) <michael&michris,com> on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:54PM (#15861410) Homepage Journal
      I have. I want to know if it's out there anywhere on the public internet. Same reason I search for my phone number, full name, etc.
    • by radarsat1 (786772) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:54PM (#15861414) Homepage

      Who in their right mind would type their social security number in a search box, in plain text??? I mean, really???


      Who in their right mind would give their SSN to AOL?
      People really don't understand these issues.. I've this to be true recently when an HR person at my university asked me to send my SSN to her over email. Also, a couple weeks ago I booked a room at a hostel over the internet, and apparently I mistyped my credit card information, so they asked me if I could to to them again over email. You know, I just said "No, I'll call you." But it just goes to show that most people just don't even think about privacy issues. Even professionals who should know about these things. They just don't. Either that or they don't understand the technical side of it... like that email is not encrypted, etc.

      As for search engines, I've no idea why you'd be searching for one on Google, unless for instance you wanted to see if your own was available somewhere--Which is funny, now that I think about it. How can you search for your own online information (to see what is out there) without giving it away yourself by typing it into a search engine?
      • by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:54PM (#15861887)
        Also, a couple weeks ago I booked a room at a hostel over the internet, and apparently I mistyped my credit card information, so they asked me if I could to to them again over email. You know, I just said "No, I'll call you."

        I send my credit card numbers over email all the time. But I only use "throw-away" numbers that are generated on the fly and can only be charged by a single vendor up to a specific amount (pre-set by myself). Most of the big card issuers offer a similar service for free (last I heard, MBNA, which has offered it for at least 5-6 years now, has not had a single instance of succesful fraud involving such throw-away numbers, never mind free, they ought to be paying me to use the service).
    • Someone who wants to see if it's posted on the internet somewhere.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:55PM (#15861422)
      It's a good way to find out if your SSN is being mismanaged by sloppy organizations.


      I've read of someone who tried it only to find that a group/department at his college had is SSN# posted :-(; which he now fixed. My guess is that his identity is safer for ahving done this.


      Of course, a partial SSN with a wildcard match might be a better idea.

    • by drix (4602) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:08PM (#15861542) Homepage
      Well, the thought never occured to me, but I just did it. If that number is publicly accessible on the web, I want to know about it.

      Unfortunately, though, Google thought I was entering a subtraction problem. The answer was -966. Now go theft my ID :-)
    • You have to understand: The average user doesnt comprehent that searching _for_ something actually sends this something into the internet.
      He will think: "hm. Lets make sure nobody got my SSN in the internet. I will search for it, and if i dont get any hits, nobody has stolen it!" and believe it to be a good idea.
    • To be fair, anyone could type in a nine digit number and it could be anyone's number. For example, 165-32-4865. I'm sure this might match someone reading slashdot at this very moment.

      Now, when they're typing in searches with their name and number in the same search, yes, that's dumb!

      I haven't had a chance to look at the data myself, but I'm sure it's happened.
    • Actually, I have seen/read places that suggested just that.

      The goal being, you can find out if a particular number is on some list (or news group or whatever) on the web.

      Not a good idea, considering they are easy to recognize as a SSN even by the lay-person AND the fact that that type of list is not typically posted on a web site (or linked) where it might get crawled.

      So, if you find your own number, you know you have a problem and need to get a credit report, etc. So on the outside, it makes some
  • Killing wives? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoCalChris (573049) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:45PM (#15861336) Journal
    Way to jump to conclusions. How do you know that they weren't working on a screenplay, or simply trying to find a phrase they heard mentioned somewhere?

    If "End of the world" was searched for, how do you know if they are looking to the lyrics for an REM song, or trying to build a WMD?
    • by krell (896769) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:48PM (#15861354) Journal
      You insentive clod! The end of the world is a geographic location! Not everyone has been sold on the junk science of the round earth!
    • Re:Killing wives? (Score:4, Informative)

      by a16 (783096) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:50PM (#15861379)
      Did you even read the link? Whoever this user was, he wasn't writing a play. And the point here is the possible implications of these logs being released in a place like America, whether this guy is planning on killing his wife, a sick freak, or having a joke - should the logs really be released for all to read and make their own minds up?

      His last search history is as follows, if he is writing a screen play, I don't want to see it!
      17556639 how to kill your wife
      17556639 how to kill your wife
      17556639 wife killer
      17556639 how to kill a wife
      17556639 poop
      17556639 dead people
      17556639 pictures of dead people
      17556639 killed people
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 murder photo
      17556639 steak and cheese
      17556639 photo of death
      17556639 photo of death
      17556639 death
      17556639 dead people photos
      17556639 photo of dead people
      17556639 www.murderdpeople.com
      17556639 decapatated photos
      17556639 decapatated photos
      17556639 car crashes3
      17556639 car crashes3
      17556639 car crash photo
      • I don't know why, but this just makes me giggle:

        17556639 how to kill your wife
        17556639 how to kill your wife
        17556639 wife killer
        17556639 how to kill a wife
        17556639 poop
        17556639 dead people
        17556639 pictures of dead people
        17556639 killed people
        17556639 dead pictures
        17556639 dead pictures
        17556639 dead pictures ...


        I just love the random poopsearch that pops up out of nowhere.
      • Steak and cheese!? This man is clearly going to commit murder then suicide via hardening of the arteries.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:35PM (#15861727) Journal
        I hate to break it to you, but there are a ton of stories out there dealing with morbid topics. Either seriously (e.g., horror stories, a la Lovecraft or Edgar Alan Poe) or as a sort of dark/macabre humour.

        And especially pay attention to the last alternative: there are a lot of stories and sites that are just supposed to be obviously humorous, not actually to be a DYI guide to the subject in their title. E.g., I think there was a humorous site somewhere titled something like "how to pick up underage girls", or something to that effect, and it wasn't actually a paedophile's field guide. E.g., take sites like the Evil Overlord's List, which are just a parody of common movie cliches, not actually a guide to be followed by someone. (Unless they're writing a story involving a stereotypical Evil Overlord.)

        So how do you know if that guy didn't google for the title of such a story? Or for some random phrase he remembered from one?

        E.g., I remember reading an absurdist play by Eugen Ionesco about some murderer who tempted people to come see the colonel's photo, and then pushed them into some lake. What if I googled for that? Remember, I don't know the title of the play any more, so I can't just google for that. Not that it would make it any better, because the title IIRC was something about an unpaid assassin.

        The whole thing didn't even make much sense, other than maybe as a metaphor for something or another. It's an absurdist play, so don't ask me for what it was a metaphor. It contained such gems as the everyman hero asking a police officer something to the effect of "and didn't you send cops to get him?" and getting an answer like "yeah, but they too wanted to see the colonel's photo." Nowhere does it say what colonel or what's special about that photo. I guess it wouldn't be absurdist if it did.

        So if I tried googling for that play on the net, would you use your amazing deductive powers to conclude that I'm looking for a hitmal willing to do some pro-bono work? Maybe to whack-off some colonel?
    • I don't think we can afford to just assume that they were looking for the lyrics to an REM song. I think we have to assume they were trying to aquire or build WMD's and I think that means we have to destroy their entire country. They might have even been trying to download copyrighted material. The only way to be sure is to take em' out.

      The price of liberty is eternal vigilence. The price of not being "us" is apparently that odd invasion every now and again.

      In the immortal words of George W
    • you're not married.
    • by neo (4625)
      Sure looks like lyrics to me.

      17556639 how to kill your wife
      17556639 how to kill your wife
      17556639 wife killer
      17556639 how to kill a wife
      17556639 poop
      17556639 dead people
      17556639 pictures of dead people
      17556639 killed people
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 dead pictures
      17556639 murder photo
      17556639 steak and cheese
      17556639 photo of death
      17556639 photo of death
      17556639 death
      17556639 dead people photos
      17556639 photo of dead people
      17556639 www.murderdpeople.com
      17556639 decapatated photos
      1755
  • Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:46PM (#15861339)
    Since most people search for their own name, this really isn't very private. I imagine law enforcement may use this to track AOL users. I wonder what the legal implications are...
    • Think of all the stalkers googling the guy/gal they have a crush on, ex-girlfriends/ex-boyfriends obsessively googling for any evidence that their ex might have a life or (god forbid) a good time, or obsessive over-protecting parents googling their offspring daily. (Even when said offspring is in his mid-30's and living half a continent away.)

      E.g., if someone assumed that the most googled name is their own, it would follow logically that mom's searches are mine. Since she's the stalker kind of parent who st
  • by zibix (654122) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:48PM (#15861357)
    I hope that Google will now mark aol.com as an unsafe website to visit.
  • This just in (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Klaidas (981300) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:49PM (#15861363)
    Company calls data posting a mistake. [com.com]
    Hmm, I wonder if this "sorry" will be enough
  • by saskboy (600063) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:51PM (#15861385) Homepage Journal
    A friend of mine downloaded this dataset.
    A teacher's credit union employee was searching for sexy underwear, how best to conduct a relationship with a co-worker, and have sex in a pickup.
    Just before that, she was searching for cars. And appears to have cancer as well, or lives with someone with cancer. Maybe it's her sick husband.

    I wonder if that demonstrates why someone wouldn't want their Google searches or AOL info to make it into the public realm. AOL is obviously a bastion of consumer rights.
  • by gstegman (988905) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:51PM (#15861389)
    It occurs to me that it would be pretty difficult to trace back to the user who is doing the searching by knowing what they are searching for. Sure I have Googled myself and have entered my address into Google Maps, Map Quest, etc. But I have Googled about a hundred other people and thousands of addresses. It would be an interesting game of what do all these things have in common for someone to triangulate all this information back to who I am. Granted I have never done a search on my or anyone elses Social Security Number, that's just asking for it.
    • I just traced all of your searches, I know who you are. You are Kevin Bacon!
    • The biggest problem for an 'average user' is if somebody has access to the data, and tries some searches for names, schools, etc. If they turn up results, it's very possible that they could identify somebody they know.
    • But I have Googled about a hundred other people and thousands of addresses

      988905: Brittney Spears
      988905: Bill Clinton
      988905: George Clinton
      988905: George Clooney
      988905: G. Stegman
      988905: Mother Teresa


      Guess!
      • Hmm... None of them?

        And so the hell what? Even if you could make a guess, you still couldn't prove it.... And even if you could prove it... WHO CARES? These people didn't even have a reasonable expectation that this data would be private. Their browser even told them so the first time the submitted data.
    • WEll, look at it this way, im pulling it down to do a search for my familys name, and then to run through any other random names that comes to mind. Once you have a name, then you can start tyring things togethere. Or maybe you just want to blackmail everyone who looked up "horsepron". You have a name, and maybe a general location, you can go to town. I think this is going to be a HUGE mess, and i think it will be much easier than you think to narrow it down to a specific name and user.
    • I find stalking can be much more effective if I stick to just stalking 2 or 3 people at a time.
  • by NightWulf (672561) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:52PM (#15861395)
    This is the last nail in the coffin for AOL I would say. This is a horrible invasion of privacy for people. Many people, myself included have probably searched for our own names, addresses, cities, credit card numbers, etc. I really hope that an attorney somewhere sues AOL into oblivion over this.

    Some intresting tidbits:

    17556639 how to kill your wife 17556639 how to kill your wife
    17556639 wife killer 17556639 how to kill a wife
    17556639 poop 17556639 dead people
    17556639 pictures of dead people 17556639 killed people
    17556639 dead pictures 17556639 dead pictures
    17556639 dead pictures 17556639 murder photo
    17556639 steak and cheese
    17556639 photo of death 17556639 photo of death
    17556639 death 17556639 dead people photos
    17556639 photo of dead people 17556639 www.murderdpeople.com
    17556639 decapatated photos 17556639 decapatated photos
    17556639 car crashes3 17556639 car crashes3

    160689 light brown colored semen 3/2/2006 16:30 9 http://experts.about.com/ [about.com]

    6497dog eat monkey5/22/2006 5:39
    6497dog eat monkey5/22/2006 5:39
    6497capuchin monkey dog5/22/2006 5:39
    6497dog eating monkey5/22/2006 5:40
    6497dog eating monkey5/22/2006 5:40
    6497dog eating monkey5/22/2006 5:40
    6497dog eats monkey5/22/2006 5:40
    6497dog eats monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497eating capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497eating capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497eating capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497kill capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497killing capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:41
    6497slaughter capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:42
    6497feeding capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:42
    6497feeding capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:42
    6497eyes capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:42
    6497tail capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:42
    6497tail capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:43
    6497tail capuchin monkey5/22/2006 5:43

    6497beach stud speedo5/23/2006 1:24
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:24
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:25
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:25
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:25
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:25
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:27
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:27
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:28
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:28
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:28
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:28
    6497beach martin ricky5/23/2006 1:29
    6497-5/23/2006 1:55
    6497-5/23/2006 1:55
    6497recent5/23/2006 1:55
    6497speedo triathlete5/23/2006 1:55

    3302children who have died from moms postpartum depression
    3302children who have died from moms postpartum depression
    3302rotovirus2006-03-24 19:55:12
    3302statistics on infancide
    3302statistics on infantcide
    3302statistics on infanticie
    3302statistics on infanticide postpartum depression
    3302statistics on infanticide postpartum depression
    3302statistics on infanticide postpartum depression
    3302pictires of tom cruise and his wife
    3302people magazines pictures of tom cruise and katie holmes

    2652898my space.com (about 100 times)
    2652898different ways to jerk of
    2652898how to not ejaculate so early
    2652898my penis has a big erection
    2652898free videos of big dicks

    Thanks to FARK.com for the snippits.
  • Was it by mistake, or did someone request it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:54PM (#15861417)
    657,437 searches for "how to cancel AOL"
  • Child Porn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by db32 (862117) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:57PM (#15861443) Journal
    Ahh...great...maybe I can expect a call from authorities if Google ever caves. I got one of those stupid ICQ Child Porn spams one day and started googling for reporting agencies. Not that I think it would do much good, but hey...I would rather have reported it and have it do nothing than to not have reported it and have no chance of it doing anything.

    In Soviet....err...In America the government watches you! Ahh...how the times have changed...Working on losing the 1st Ammendment and 4th Ammendment in 8 years. As Thomas Jefferson said "The beauty of the 2nd Ammendment is that you don't need it until the government tries to take it away"... I recently had a picture taken of my baby girl at the National Archives with those 3 terribly important documents honestly wondering if they will mean anything or even exist by the time she is old enough to show her kids the picture.

    But hey...may just be me being a pessimist...so maybe the spooks won't get up and arms datamining slashdot and seeing my TJ quote and come interrogate me for being a terrorist...just in case...

    Last post!
  • by bcmm (768152)
    Read the data. Finally, conclusive proof that AOL users are stupid.
  • Well, looks like we can match one "random number" to someone.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  • The sheer number of false positives makes this data useless; you'd waste so much police time following false leads that you'll be unable to use it on better methods that give back useful leads. There are dozens to hundreds or reasons to search for such things that are perfectly harmless (random curiosity, research, interest in the morbid, etc.). And the act of searching shows neither a desire to do something nor is it illegal in itself. I've searched for a lot of things that may look odd if taken out of con
  • by russiste (180524) on Monday August 07, 2006 @03:59PM (#15861476) Homepage
    The file is available here:

    http://www.gregsadetsky.com/aol-data/ [gregsadetsky.com]

    There are 14 mirrors listed there. They have all been added after this first mirror went live less than 20 hours ago.

    I have already transferred 863Gb of data in that short period of time.
  • by aquatone282 (905179) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:06PM (#15861527)

    FTA:

    17556639 how to kill your wife
    17556639 how to kill your wife
    17556639 wife killer
    17556639 how to kill a wife
    17556639 poop
    17556639 dead people
    17556639 pictures of dead people
    17556639 killed people
    17556639 dead pictures
    17556639 dead pictures
    17556639 dead pictures
    17556639 murder photo
    17556639 steak and cheese
    17556639 photo of death
    17556639 photo of death
    17556639 death
    17556639 dead people photos
    17556639 photo of dead people
    17556639 www.murderdpeople.com
    17556639 decapatated photos
    17556639 decapatated photos
    17556639 car crashes3
    17556639 car crashes3
    17556639 car crash photo

    Mmmmmm. . . Steak and cheese. . .

  • by drix (4602)
    Not to make too much light of a really scary situation, but... the kill your wife guy searched 3 times for it and didn't come across this [killmywife.com] the first two?! What an idiot!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:15PM (#15861590)
    13455621 how to fucking bury someone
    13455621 funky gibbon
    13455621 chair repairs seattle
    13455621 addams family
    13455621 OSS cancer
    13455621 FUD spreading
  • by Runefox (905204)
    Social Security numbers are common AOL searches? What? Why would anyone type their SSN into an AOL search?

    Oh wait.
  • I guess last week was a bad time to be signing up for an AIM account.
  • This is silly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fjf33 (890896)
    " Looks like they've just taken it down but it's still available on The Pirate Bay; not sure why but some of the academic researchers are going crazy musing the ethical aspects of letting the world know who's searching for how to kill their wives ..."

    Because of the presumption that your are not breaking the law? We all have things to hide. Some don't even break the law but could be bad if they were out there. Presumably this guy hasn't killed his wife either. If there was a dead wife and her husband was a s
  • Especially on the internet. Don't even bother to try. The world is too interconnected now, and there is no going back.

    Learn to live with this reality. Your life will be easier.

    Start by not doing things that will get you in trouble. Follow up by not doing things that are embarrassing, or not getting embarrassed in the first place. Remember - 95% of men admit to being chronic masturbators. Coincidentally, five percent have been scientifically determined to be chronic liars.
  • ...they usually charge astronomical fees for that kind of data, which is the only reason it had been compiled in the first place.

  • by harmonica (29841) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:08PM (#15862012)
    There are a couple of lines in those logs that have supposedly led AOL users to my site. However, I can't verify a single one of those with my own logs. Any site owners out there who were more successful? Any explanation for that phenomenon?
  • Hypocrites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xplenumx (703804) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:21PM (#15862110)
    I'm absolutely stunned by the number of people who are on one hand saying "This is evil! We must protect privacy!" and yet at the same time have downloaded the list and commented on the information therein.
  • by geekotourist (80163) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:43PM (#15862257) Journal
    When AOL appologized today, the spokesperson said [com.com] '"Although there was no personally-identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this."


    Back in January, related to the story on how the DoJ demands and gets ISP data [slashdot.org], AOL had said that [informationweek.com] "We did not comply with the request made in the subpoena," spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. "Instead, we gave the Department of Justice a list of aggregate anonymous search terms that did not include results or any personally identifiable information."


    AOL- you need to rethink that phrase personally identifiable, because it doesn't seem to mean what you think it means. You're hiding behind one technical definition of PII, without concern about whether or not the results actually have PII. If you're releasing results with personally identifying information, then you cannot say you're not releasing PII. I'd written in January [slashdot.org] I'd writen "I question this assumption by Yahoo, AOL, etc. that search terms, by themselves, have no privacy considerations because they've been separated from personal info. What if the search itself contains personal information? Are the search companies deleting the timestamps and randomizing the order of the search terms themselves? Because otherwise I could see personal info showing up." Obviously, half a year later, they still think that replacing a name with a number takes away the PII. They need to have a talk with, say, the Census Department, about why the department will withhold data [census.gov] about *groups* of businesses in a region. Grouped data can easily become PII data if you can tease out characteristics. AOL didn't even group the data!


    As always, relevant quotes from the best.essay.evar on why privacy is a fundamental human right [privcom.gc.ca]: "If information that is actually about someone else is wrongly applied to us, if wrong facts make it appear that we've done things we haven't, if perfectly innocent behavior is misinterpreted as suspicious because authorities don't know our reasons or our circumstances, we will be at risk of finding ourselves in trouble in a society where everyone is regarded as a suspect. By the time we clear our names and establish our innocence, we may have suffered irreparable financial or social harm..."

    "...agents of the state in Canada cannot order Canada Post to photocopy the address on every envelope we send, nor can they order bookstores to keep a record of every book we buy, let alone of every page of every magazine we leaf through. There is no reason why they should be able to exercise such powers with regard to every e-mail someone sends or every Web site he or she visits."

    "I do not see any reason why e-mails should be subject to a lower standard of privacy protection than letters or telephone calls. And I do not see why Internet browsing should be subject to a lower standard of protection than book purchasing or researching in a reference library. Canadians should not be subject to greater state monitoring or scrutiny just because they choose to use new communication technologies."

  • by Cutting_Crew (708624) on Monday August 07, 2006 @06:58PM (#15862707)
    This may surprise you but guess how many searches for slashdot or people using slashdot.

    Take a look here [ballofdoom.com] for the building archive.
    Ok fess up.. WHO on here is using slashdot that is an AOL lover. For a long time we have poked jokes at AOLers but it seems they are in our midst.
  • by morcheeba (260908) * on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:02AM (#15863948) Journal
    I use google's package tracking number all the time -- seems like some other people enjoy this, too.

    user-ct-test-collection-01.txt:11218337 http to track the status of this shipment on line please use the following;http www.fedex.com tracking action track&tracknumbers
    604041010003308 2006-04-28 18:31:15
    This person lives in Stamford, CT and ordered a "SL150T-12 Battery" for Home Delivery (5.0 lbs.) [fedex.com] from california. Their barcode got messed up in-transit. Left at front door. Signature Service not requested.

    user-ct-test-collection-01.txt:2433634 tracking 9102013196683232299662 2006-03-19 17:33:48
    Your item was delivered at 8:54 am on March 24, 2006 in CROWLEY, LA 70526.

    user-ct-test-collection-01.txt:5736530 ups tracking number 1z05r57w0299803522 2006-04-12 04:01:29
    Delivered on: 04/12/2006 9:59 A.M. Delivered to: SOUTH BELOIT, IL, US Service Type: 2ND DAY AIR

    user-ct-test-collection-01.txt:11989465 ups tracking 1z5628500342774976 2006-05-31 17:14:22
    Delivered on: 05/31/2006 6:12 P.M. Delivered to: FORT WAYNE, IN, US Service Type: GROUND

    user-ct-test-collection-02.txt:2103248 tracking 91025562344468252800 2006-03-02 02:11:13
    There is no record of this item.

    user-ct-test-collection-02.txt:2371993 tracking 1z7e49v20341755740 2006-05-08 12:22:41
    Delivered on: 05/08/2006 10:25 A.M. Delivered to: BOTHELL, WA, US Service Type: GROUND

    user-ct-test-collection-02.txt:2749649 usps tracking 9121010521297356081254 2006-04-04 17:11:49
    Info has been stored off-line, but USPS will send it to your email

    user-ct-test-collection-02.txt:5847446 www.ups.com and enter the tracking number 1z00v4270380899979 2006-03-18 16:53:15
    Delivered on: 03/20/2006 2:56 P.M. Delivered to: TEMPLE CITY, CA, US Service Type: GROUND ... and so on ...

    There were about 120 searches for UPS "1Z..." numbers. I didn't bother parsing for USPS & UPS numbers, but there are plenty of those, too. I'm sure you'd be able to pull some names when the signature service is requested.

  • by mattr (78516) <mattr&telebody,com> on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @12:04AM (#15863955) Homepage Journal
    This is really chilling. My Mom uses AOL so of course I picked up a copy of the archive. I just searched for a few terms in one of the ten files it contains. grepped the name of my small home town (population 10-20 thousand) which has grown more affluent in recent years. I found two users who did extensive searches, found a number of full names of individuals, hotel names, domain names, personal searches including phrases you might not want your significant other to see, searches including the full name, position and company of an individual, etc. I found the names of nearby schools and my supermarket. Thank God I didn't see my mother's name in it but on the other hand there are 9 files left to go.. and I was going to post some interesting phrases but then I realized that then anybody could see the name of my town. I don't see how you could defend yourself against this kind of thing, someone else's search could end up as an innuendo and picture this scenario: wife uses AOL at home, husband is geek at work with this archive. Maybe the AOL software caches recent queries anyway, I don't know, but who wouldn't worry if they see the names of various men with online searches to purchase party dresses and sexy music? Hoooo boy, they don't even realize the danger in their 0.3% they released. They are going to get sued into oblivion. Now just need some enterprising /. lawyer to start fishing for clients... ouch.

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