AOL keeps track of every search that its users make. Earlier this month it released a portion of its database of personal search histories as a research tool for academics. What it failed to anticipate was the fact it leaked huge amount of personal, private information.
The AOL searchers’ identities are anonymised, but given many of us succumb to searching for our own names, or towns where we live it wasn’t hard to figure out “who is who.” The New York Times has written a very interesting article where they managed to track down and interview one 62 year old searcher.
Her take on the situation? “My goodness, it’’s my whole personal life. I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder.”
So much for our personal privacy, eh? This data, of course, is compiled to help the search engines provided focused (and highly profitable) advertising. But there is a growing backlash against this privacy timebomb.
AOL quickly removed the data, but not before other sites were able to publish the results. You can now use AOL Stalker to search through the data. Warning: there’s a heck a lot unsavoury searches in there.
I did a quick search, and found one person who looks like a British ex-patriate pining for the Wombles, searching for towns like Ilkeston and Heanor, interested in the BNP, looking for a job as a labourer in San Francisco, and wanting to become a US citizen. Take a look at this individual’s search results and tell me how you would interpret them.