Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

AOL CTO Shown the Door 277

Posted by samzenpus
from the goodbye dept.
BrewerDude writes "Reuters is reporting that AOL Chief Technical Officer Maureen Govern has resigned from the company. Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough? What do the slashdot readers think is the appropriate outcome of this fiasco?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

AOL CTO Shown the Door

Comments Filter:
  • by BWJones (18351) * on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:12PM (#15951779) Homepage Journal
    Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough?

    Well, it would certainly be nice to see companies (and governments) go back to a model where "the buck stops here" and take responsibility for their actions. I don't know who ultimate thought "I know what let's do" and release these records for public consumption without even "anonymizing" them, but the CTO is an appropriately responsible party I would guess.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Seems like the right person was the business man & legal council person who decided that AOL would keep these search records in the first place.

      What the CTO did is merely reveal that AOL was deliberately holding on to this privacy time-bomb and exposed it in a relatively minor way. The person who actually leaked the data should be praised as a whistleblower.

      I want whomever APPROVED STORING the logs to be fired; and whomever adviced that hanging on to this kind of data is worth the potential risks shoul

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jesuscyborg (903402)
        Are you daft??? Do you really expect search engines to not keep tabs on what people are using their service for? EVERY search engine keeps records of searches; they'd be crazy not to. Most use them for good, to improve the results by figuring out how to adapt to the way people use it. Other companies hand sell them to the government and private companies...

        I don't think there is any problem with retaining data, as long as they can be trusted to keep it safe and be held accoutable if they don't.
      • I don't think that's really fair to the poor souls who work at AOL. No really, I'm being serious here.

        AOL owes you nothing. If you use their service, any information you disclose to them isn't private. They have no obligation to refrain from storing it, notify you that they're storing it, et cetera. Don't mis-hear me, though: publishing this information should definitely be out of their bounds.

        But seriously: if you don't trust a company, don't their services. What are you going to sue them for? Reta

    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:25PM (#15951888) Homepage

      The problem is that they were not anonymised enough. They took out the user IDs, but they replaced them with numbers. As we've all seen, there was still enough there to identify people that way. To really sanitize it they would have had to remove that part so you couldn't tell which searches were together and which were from seperate users, but that would have made the data less usefull.

      They would also have to remove all the searches that are to specific like "birth certificate for Joe B. McWhatever SSN:123-45-6789" and other such stuff which would have been a major burden too.

      • i'm sure their real problem with it was that they weren't releasing this to just a select few companies that paid them for it. if they'd done that, the public/press wouldn't have heard about it and it would have been more revenue for that division rather than unwanted attention.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Actually the buck stopped multiple times up the chain of command:

      A researcher in AOL's technology research department and the employee's supervisor have also left the company in the wake of the disclosure, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

      I doubt the CTO personally authorized the release, and after this I suppose all supervisors will lose some sleep over the prospect of being (unintentionally) torpedoed by a subordinate. That said, it may well motivate some new security measures, or at l

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I doubt the CTO personally authorized the release, and after this I suppose all supervisors will lose some sleep over the prospect of being (unintentionally) torpedoed by a subordinate.

        Any good supervisor does lose sleep over this. The job of a supervisor is, well, to supervise. That does mean accepting responsibility not only for your own actions, but for the actions of those who you are responsible for managing and overseeing.

        At a "C" level position, that certainly is a lot of people to take respons

    • Yeah, one day you're on top of the world, making theme songs for disaster movies and staring in the disaster that is AOL, then you get the boot. Here's hoping Ms. McGovern can get her music career back on track.
  • by yagu (721525) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ugayay]> on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:13PM (#15951784) Journal

    From the summary: Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough? ...

    Well, considering that others are shown to the door for working 20+ years, garnering good reviews, and creeping within a chip shot of expensive pension payoffs, it's probably reasonable to show this guy the door.

    Probably the biggest crime, and one we'll never be in on, is how golden a parachute this guy jumped with.

    • by SilentTristero (99253) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:17PM (#15951820)
      Um, Maureen Govern is not a "guy." See (e.g.) here [bizjournals.com].
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Kenshin (43036)
        guy
        n.
              1. Informal. A man; a fellow.
              2. guys Informal. Persons of either sex.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by willpall (632050)
          Per your definition, only the plural form may refer to either sex. In it's singular form, guy always refers to a male.
  • by mythosaz (572040) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:14PM (#15951796)
    Let it fit the crime.

    AOL should release - without names, of course - the text of all the searches executed by recent AOL CTOs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I think he should have been demoted, into the Customer Service Call Center. See how he handles a couple of weeks trying to convince people to keep their AOL account.

      "Why yes ma'am, I am responsible for releasing data on all your searches, but that's no reason to cancel your account!"
      • by Grey_14 (570901)
        Have you ever actually TALKED to an AOL customer? Do you think many of them are even aware this happened? do you think they care?
    • by Frogular (961545) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:31PM (#15951934)
      Slight problem...

      AOL CTOs have been using Google.
    • 1. howto spin big fuckup
      2. creating plausible deniability
      3. crow recipies
      4. top cto jobs -aol
      5. job keygen crack
      6. alcoholics anonymous
      7. depression hotline
      8. psychiatrist
      9. gun shop
      10. funeral parlor
    • by tehshen (794722)
      657427 i have got mail
      657427 keyword advertising profits
      657427 building a keywords list
      657427 building a keywords list -illegal
      657427 building a keywords list -legal
      657427 keywords research purposes
      657427 value of keywords list
      657427 value of keywords list -greed
      657427 do aol users care about privacy
      657427 is screwup a good term
      657427 how to get lawyers
      657427 lawyers the pirate bay
      657427 lawyers the pirate bay -sco
      657427 poop
      657427 me too
    • Examine the data they released more closely. It may be that they have already done this.
  • Apropriate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:15PM (#15951804) Homepage Journal

    Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough? What do the slashdot readers think is the appropriate outcome of this fiasco?

    The paradox is that the one who takes overall responsibility is axed, yet they have learned from the experience. They have also undoubtably done many things right, which their successor may goof on.

    It's trading a devil you know for a devil you don't. Should have just docked her pay, made her stand in a corner of sommat.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cowboy76Spain (815442)
      Given the publicity this error has had (and its repercussions), the next CTO should have already learnt from the mistake. If he/she hadn't, I think AOL should select another CTO because, no matter your skills, common sense is still needed.

      And if I even get to a job that someone has left vacant, one of my firsts worries will be asking what happened to the previous guys.
    • Business processes are god. which makes a sort of sense when people leave.

       
    • Not likely (Score:2, Informative)

      by brad77 (562411)

      It's trading a devil you know for a devil you don't.

      According to Ars Technica [arstechnica.com], Govern had only been at AOL for not quite a year. She replaced John McKinley as CTO after he was promoted to AOL's Digital Services group. He'll act as interim CTO until they find someone new.

      It's more likely that they just traded a devil they don't know for a devil they do.

  • In an ideal universe, the last 90 days of Maureen Govern's search records would be published in a form suitable for addition to the database.
  • by creimer (824291) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:16PM (#15951807) Homepage
    They fired the person who released the data and the supervisor, and the CTO was shown the door. I think the management structure was a bit too flat for me to not be suspicious. Was there people between the supervisor and the CTO who should've gotten the sack? Or was the CTO shoved onto her proverbial sword as public sacrifice to blow over the controversy? Or what are they really covering up? Inquiring minds want to know...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Enoxice (993945)
      Was there people between the supervisor and the CTO who should've gotten the sack?

      Are you suggesting they should've just burned down the whole division and started from scratch? The person that released the data (for obvious reasons), the direct supervisor (for not catching the error before it made it out, and the CTO (for not catching wind of it and stopping it). Personally, I want to think it was overkill to can the CTO, as well, but whatever AOL thinks they need to do to save face. It's their call.
    • by pla (258480) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:43PM (#15952620) Journal
      Or was the CTO shoved onto her proverbial sword as public sacrifice to blow over the controversy?

      ? No no no! You clearly don't understand the business world, grasshopper...

      She chose to "spend more time with her family", totally unrelated (in a golden-parachute-deflating sense) to the leak. No doubt the evil actions by her underlings, done entirely without her knowledge, made her job just too stressful to keep putting in those gruelling 10 hour workweeks for a paltry seven-figure salary.

      Tsk! Did you even read the press releases? How can you remain skeptical in the face of such incontrovertible proof as the noble and cherished Press Release?
  • by Night Goat (18437) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:16PM (#15951810) Homepage Journal
    Being allowed to resign isn't good enough. He should have been fired. It's ridiculous that once you get high enough on the corporate ladder, you don't get canned like the rest of us would. Us peons screw up a little bit, we get fired. But if you're a big cheese, and screw up hugely, you are allowed to resign. Life's not fair I guess.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      When you get that far up resigning is a lot like getting fired.
    • by aiken_d (127097)
      Um, you seem to be complaining about a semantic difference. Everyone knows she was fired, and why. The only negative associated with being fired is what it says about you to future employers, and she will suffer from that sitgma every bit as much as one of you peons who gets fired.

      Why worry about the semantics when the reality is clear to everyone?
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Besides. If you must go, it is better to be fired. If you quit, you are often not eligable for unemployment. If your pride can't handle it, just ask your employer at the next layoff/firing if you can resign instead. You can be sure they will not only let you resign, but they will be happy to do it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DirePickle (796986)
          You are not elligible for unemployment if you are fired. There is a difference between that and a layoff, which you are elligible with.
          • by Belial6 (794905)
            Bzzzt...Wrong. I don't know about your state, but here in California, you have to have done something pretty serious on purpose or quit to be ineligable for unemployment.
    • by Tadrith (557354)
      But... then they'd have to pay her unemployment! :P
  • Scapegoat maybe? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MoogMan (442253) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:24PM (#15951875)
    I fail to see how this could be the CTO's fault...
    • Re:Scapegoat maybe? (Score:4, Informative)

      by mooingyak (720677) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:32PM (#15951940)
      If the CTO doesn't want things like this to happen, then there should be procedures in place to prevent it. If she was completely blindsided by this, that's no better than if she was involved with the project and personally gave the okay. It's really only excusable if she's been CTO a relatively short amount of time and hasn't had a chance to get her shop in order.
      • by Duhavid (677874)
        I dont know Jack about this, but,
        In fine slashdot tradition, I proceed.

        What if she knew about this, and had been fighting
        tooth and nail to keep it from happening? What if
        she quit over them overriding her on this?

        Not saying she did, but what if?
        • Then certainly her lovely departing gifts will be dependant on her silence on the matter, and she's going to take the flak for it anyway.

          You can't actually expect a C-level exec to turn down a big honking bag of money and get another job, just to save something piddly like thier integrity, can you?
          • by Duhavid (677874)

            Then certainly her lovely departing gifts will be dependant on her silence on the matter, and she's going to take the flak for it anyway.

            Quite. But is it deserved, or not? Maybe
            so, my question was just a "what if".

            You can't actually expect a C-level exec to turn down a big honking bag of money and get another job, just to save something piddly like thier integrity, can you?

            Actually, I can. Course, I dont expect it, if you catch the difference.
            I think part of the problem we in the US are having is that ou

    • by swb (14022)
      The CTO might have some kind of management responsibility for how the data was stored, but it doesn't do anything for the more nefarious problem of corporate greedwhores keeping and warehousing personal information.

      To truly deal with the problem, you'd have to sack everyone with an MBA from 1980 onward. Not likely, although probably a reasonable action just the same.
  • I am sure he is crying into his 7 figure golden parachute all the way down.
    Where can we donate to a fund to help his suffering family???

    Kidding aside, if you want the obscene Executive salaries, you have to accept that you get to be the sacrifical fall guy that is used to appease the shareholders.
    • Because massive generalizations such as 'all CTOs have a 7 figure golden parachute(even if they resign)' are so true. I bet you are as right about this as you are about the gender of the former CTO.
  • Kudos to the CTO. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lancejjj (924211) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:26PM (#15951890) Homepage
    AOL Chief Technical Officer Maureen Govern has resigned from the company. Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough? What do the slashdot readers think is the appropriate outcome of this fiasco?

    Assuming she honestly resigned, big kudos to her for taking the responsibility and the heat, and not passing the buck down to the people who need the paycheck. It's not often that a person in power will take the fall - most often, 100% of the blame gets placed on lower-level people who were just doing what they were told.

    I'm sure she didn't make the decision or understand the ramifications - after all, she is a CTO. And hopefully there are some people at AOL who would have known that this was a bad idea. But in the end, it was up to her to prevent this from happening. ... or the CEO.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:28PM (#15951913)
    Maureen Govern has resigned from the company. Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results...?

    AOL probably found her keyword searches for: "CTO", "fortune 500", "availability", "resume"...

  • Absolutely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bgardella (132855) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:32PM (#15951944) Homepage
    During my first IT job, the CTO resigned when a server crashed and 2 weeks worth of orders and return information was lost. Tape backup procedures failed. Not sure if she was pushed out or if she voluntarily fell on her sword, but I felt then as I do now that it was the right thing to do. If you are the head of a department that fails to do their job in some egregious way, you should bear full responsibility and pay accordingly. Too many execs find ways to point blame below them. In my case, she could have easily fired the dweeb managing the backup tapes. He's the one who screwed up, right? Maybe he even lied about keeping up to date. This was 1995. Have I seen anything like it since? Nope.
  • by BigZaphod (12942) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:32PM (#15951945) Homepage
    Was it a new door or something? Why didn't she see it before? Was it even in her building? Why is this even news? I've seen a lot of doors in my time. In fact, I'm looking at one right now. Why don't I get a slashdot story, huh? What is this preference for the rich and famous? How does one even become rich and famous in the first place if so much depends upon the exposure given only to those already with status.... Why doesn't someone show *me* the door, dammit?! I'm a person too! I demand to be shown the door!
  • Perhaps not appropriate for this particular incident - but I'd like to see more discussion around the idea of holding these corporate non-citizen entities with citizen's rights accountable. And not in the Lou Dobbs slap-on-the-wrist mode, either. Threat of company dissolution seems like a prudent deterrent to me. Fines don't work, and personnel can be swapped so easily. Things like releasing a rootkit, or half a million search records, or the commonly hidden bank hacks are just not acceptable; the risks to
    • People who suffer damages at the hands of a corporation are free to sue. This happens everyday. Merck is facing $80 million dollar judgements related to Vioxx. In addition, corporate officers who break laws while running their company are also held accountable. Just ask Ken Lay.

      So, if you were rule maker for the game, what would you do to change it today?
      • Limit trials to 3 days, like in Phoenix Wright?

        Currently, you're technically free to sue, but realistically, unless you're so loaded with cash that you're probably a big corp anyway, or you find a landshark who wants a name for himself and will work on contingiency, they can bankrupt you before the trial even starts.
  • by eclectro (227083) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:34PM (#15951963)
    2356894 new job
    2356894 new job soon
    2356894 macdonalds
    2356894 mcdonalds
    2356894 mcjob
    2356894 postal service
    2356894 going postal
    2356894 guns

  • this had to happen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrpeebles (853978) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:35PM (#15951967)
    Forget moralizing the release of the keywords. From a business standpoint, this was terrible for AOL. They are trying to reinvent themselves as an internet service rather than internet access that, among other things, is responsible for your computer security. My memory, at least, is that recent AOL commercials have all stressed in particular that buying AOL helps protect you against "viruses". Then they release these search results, and eviscerate this new image they were building for themselves. Heads had to roll.
  • This is a perfect example of the current zeitgeist (is that the right word?) where the "something must be done!" public opinion is acknowledged and someone's head HAD to roll. Maureen was "it" this time. And we're all happy. No

    In 6-12 months after everyone has forgotten about it, she'll get another CTO job at 100+ times the average wage earner in the U.S.

    I'd love to hear who threw her to the wolves on this one because we all know it's very rare the person that did it actually hangs.

    Note to self: Finish We
  • "Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough?"

    Nothing deters slacking off on one's duties better than severe punishment.

    She would probably rather be drawn and quartered than face 600,000 AOL users.

    Come to think of it, I could see her changing her name.
  • Lots of very personal information made public through simple lack of respect for customers.

     
  • Govern joined the company last September.

    Didn't take her long to screw up Big Time!

  • Here's harsh enough:

    Have him defend himself, in a court of law, against 20 million plaintiffs.
  • Probably the only job open to her now is that of Official Keeper of the Glorious Counter-Counter-Revolutionary Bush. The Official Keeper's duties are to comb the breadcrumbs from Richard Stallman's beard each morning, and to bear it before him, resting it tenderly on a bed of cloth of velvet, at all official functions of the FSF. Unfortunately, a highly complicated dispute involving several professors at law, as to whether "breadcrumbs" refers only to home-made organic bread or also to the superheated paten
  • If I screwed up like that, I'd feel terrible. Resigning is pretty much the only appropriate response. Resigning means that you don't blame anyone else for your problems. Plus it gives you a break where you can go hiking in the wilderness and heal a bit. After that you can start over with a clean slate.

  • I suspect that, when the search results were leaked, Mr. CTO's was on that list too. I bet he found it hard to explain why he was spending several hours each day searching for "hot barnyard action".
  • AOL Chief Technical Officer Maureen Govern has resigned from the company. Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough?

    Even without the search results, given the level of AOL technology its appropriate and not harsh enough.

    Thank goodness they'll be able to get some visionary technical specialis....

    AOL's former CTO, will take over on an interim basis, according to the memo obtained by Reuters on Monday.

    Oh, okay they are stil

  • And that information wants to be free.

    Hmmm, do you have a gmail address?

     
  • Fiasco? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:08PM (#15952450)
    The AOL release of search terms is (A) a boon to research on real-world searching habits, and (B) a wakeup call for those so stupid to think that anything they send over a PUBLIC network unencrypted is ever in any way private (which in this case it really wasn't either).

    Were there privacy agreements in place with those who did the AOL searches? Not if you read the TOS carefully. We should all thank AOL for making it very publically clear that any searches may be later drug up under other conditions. Google promises never to release the search terms but still retains them and that means MANY different people within Google probably have access to that raw data, not to mention anyone at your ISP.

    If anyone out there thinks this is bad, I encourage you to start your own search firm that clearly outlines you will never store search results and then get pummeled into gravel as companies that can try new search techniques using historical searches and data walk all over you with R&D. That's the whole tradeoff here that we all implicitly agree to by using these companies services, they are also getting our data. If you don't like it stop using the services but don't expect the companies to change something that is not very practical to change.

    If you are worried about such companies having your data remember a few things:

    1) You are one of hundreds of millions.

    2) Your life is really not that interesting when looked at in great detail. This is true of anyone on Earth.
  • Reuters is reporting that AOL Chief Technical Officer Maureen Govern has resigned from the company. Is this an appropriate penalty for releasing 20 million keyword search results, or is it too harsh, or not harsh enough?

    One executive fired? And they don't even have the balls to call it fired? (not that anyone ever does any more) Not enough by a damned site.

    She'll have a new job inside of a week, and she probably got fifty million in parting gifts. Fire every person in the hierarchy that did it, after cancel
  • Whether or not this person was really responsible, we'll never know.

    But what I can faithfully say is that she will have no problem finding a job as soon as she's ready to start working again. People in high-profile positions like CTO of a Fortune 500 company don't end up working at McDonald's the next day.

    She will likely go to work for a competitor, start her own mega-huge consulting gig, end up in government, or ... here's one ... become a political lobbiest for privacy!

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

Working...