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AOL doesn't care about privacy

As I'm sure you have already heard, AOL dropped the queries for 500,000 users directly into the hands of "researchers" (AKA the public).  But to protect themselves and the identity of their users, the userid was anonymized.
Written by Garett Rogers, Inactive

As I'm sure you have already heard, AOL dropped the queries for 500,000 users directly into the hands of "researchers" (AKA the public).  But to protect themselves and the identity of their users, the userid was anonymized.  I would hope AOL was smart enough to know that anonymizing the userid doesn't do jack.

You can take the AnonID from the dataset and link searches to each other -- this can give you an easy way to identify someone, especially if they have done ego searches on themselves.  Philipp Lenssen has some good commentary on how the data can be linked together in his post about the situation.

What’s really interesting is that queries were connected to a user ID... and there goes your privacy. Based on a sequence of searches it is often trivial to connect a person to a user ID. For example, user 500 may search for “link:mysite.com”, and then user 500 may search for the name “John Doe.” Now you can verify that mysite.com’s webmaster is John Doe from San Francisco, and you have a good indicator that user 500 is indeed John Doe. Finally, you look at other queries from this user – like, “jobs San Francisco” – and you have strong indicators that John Doe is looking for a job behind his current boss’s back.

Even though they removed that data about three days after they made it available, it is too late.  There are already mirrors hosting copies of the database and a cached version still resides on Google.
This is the same type of information the government subpoena about six months ago was asking for.  Didn't AOL see the stink raised over this issue?  If I was to compare this mistake from AOL to something else, it would be a wild fire -- a bucket of water will not put this one out.  As one user on the Google Blogoscoped forum says: "Man AOL is going to be in PR hell soon."
This is the type of news that will reach every single AOL user.  People will be boycotting the company because of their blatent disregard for the privacy of users.  As my fellow Canadians would understand -- this could be the TSN turning point.

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