Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

AOL Releases Search Logs of 657,427 Users

Comments Filter:
  • Re:Killing wives? (Score:4, Informative)

    by a16 (783096) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:50PM (#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
  • by NightWulf (672561) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:52PM (#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.
  • by ironwill96 (736883) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:57PM (#15861452) Homepage Journal
    No privacy issues? Just look at some of the data that you can link to a specific user ID over that 3 month period. It is not too hard to figure out who it is. As TFA points out, many people type in their own name to search engines to see if they show up anywhere on the internet. Tied with birth dates, horoscope searches, SS #'s etc, it is not too hard to figure out who a particular user is.

    But wait, you were being sarcastic right?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:58PM (#15861455)
    *******Update***** Monday July 7th 10 AM PST AOL Officially comments in the comments section below.

    Andrew Weinstein

    All -

    This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it. It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant.

    Although there was no personally-identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this. It was a mistake, and we apologize. We've launched an internal investigation into what happened, and we are taking steps to ensure that this type of thing never happens again.

    Here was what was mistakenly released:

    * Search data for roughly 658,000 anonymized users over a three month period from March to May.

    * There was no personally identifiable data provided by AOL with those records, but search queries themselves can sometimes include such information.

    * According to comScore Media Metrix, the AOL search network had 42.7 million unique visitors in May, so the total data set covered roughly 1.5% of May search users.

    * Roughly 20 million search records over that period, so the data included roughly 1/3 of one percent of the total searches conducted through the AOL network over that period.

    * The searches included as part of this data only included U.S. searches conducted within the AOL client software.

    Our apologies again.

    Andrew Weinstein AOL Spokesperson
  • by russiste (180524) on Monday August 07, 2006 @04:59PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:04PM (#15861514)
    so I don't really see the privacy issue

    Then you're an idiot. The info itself can contain private info, and being linked by ID makes it much easier. Imagine this set of searches:
    Susan Smith phone number
    britney spears
    Smallville high school
    shoe store near smallville
    Smallville abortion clinic
    dr. joe jones

    6 searches and already we can assume the user lives in smallville, is young, knows susan smith, and is looking for information on abortions.

    Now, if instead of 6, we had every search for a month or two. How much more information about this "anonymous" user do you think we could find?
  • by thefirelane (586885) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:07PM (#15861532)
    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!
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:19PM (#15861615)
    Link probably not work safe.

    And vaguely disturbing that it apparently happens enough to have an official slang term.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:54PM (#15861888)
    If you want more of this type of data, all you have to do is install the free version of Limewire, wait until it connects to the gnutella network as an ultra peeer, and enable display search queries and you can sit back and watch this stuff scroll by to beat the band, what everyone is search for with limewire.

    I imagine you can get yourself the free source code, hack it to capture this and dump it to a text file, and after you've got terabytes, do a sort on it to find out what is the most popular searched terms.

    its amazing what kind of crap people search for, that you've never even heard of...

    If you can't find a link to this stupid AOL data, here' are some mirrors:

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

    Now, the respectable thing to been done by the community would of been to have not made this kind of thing headlines, told AOL this was a BAD IDEA (tm) and why, and it would of slipped into obsurity. Now that its been sensationalized its gone viral and that's where the real damage was done. Places like DIGG and SLASHDOT that sensationalized it.

    Now there's going to be a massive game to hunt down and identify as many users on the list... like a game of CLUE.

    ISPs and search engine providers have a moral obligation under their terms of service or should, never to release this kind of thing to ANYBODY. Not a government agency, not anybody. In fact, it shouldn't even be logged and saved.

  • by James Carnley (789899) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:54PM (#15861893) Homepage
    What makes you think that AOL is powered by Google?
  • by schwaang (667808) on Monday August 07, 2006 @05:57PM (#15861916)
    Why were you ever under the delusion that aggrigate data about your searches would be kept private.


    Maybe because AOL's privacy policy [aol.com] says so? First because it defines Member Information to include:
    information about the searches you perform through the AOL Service and how you use the results of those searches;


    And then it says:
    AOL will only share your AOL Member information with third parties to provide products and services you have requested, or when we have your consent


  • Re:Grammar (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 08, 2006 @01:17AM (#15863988)
    Just so you know, English wasn't invented in the US.
    His usage is perfectly acceptable in certain countries that don't have a chimp for President.

If you do something right once, someone will ask you to do it again.

Working...