AOL Search Data, Minority Report, Identity Theft, Getting a Job… you are busted!

I’ve been following the story about AOL mistakenly releasing a private AOL Search data of its users and this is the first time I am going to blog about it, after seeing The New Your Times article entitled A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749.

Follow up:

These searches are very dangerous to one’s privacy and identity. Specially for the government and intelligence (and counter-intelligence) agencies, these searches can be used to file a case to anyone, literally sue anyone. If you are familiar with the movie Minority Report, these searches can be used to accuse anyone of a crime s/he is “supposedly” “going to commit”. A case was won already in the US using Google’s search data (I loss the link).

One of the issues here is, how can anyone prove that a person is “supposedly” “going to commit a crime”? Then the other similarly as important as the Minority Report is the growing “Identity Theft” problems/cases. Using these search engine data, people who are into stealing identities of other people will now have a database of information to use to assume the identity of another person – anywhere in the world! Here’s another, your very own reputation tarnished. Why?

Simple, many of us do search our names in these SEs (Search Engine), and then after that, we also search for other information. Add your name together with your other searches like “free sex partner” and the those with access to the data will now know you are looking for one. Yes, educational purposes, but can you prove that? Even if your search string was “education sex”, how many people will believe you are not looking for “sex education” or say, not looking for someone to “teach you sex”?

How about adding your name to these search strings – “marijuana, ecstasy, illegal drugs”? Or say, “bomb making, dynamite, store”? You will surely get a Minority Report and you’ll end up in jail.

Or your reputation will go down dramatically, maybe not because of your search strings, but because someone stole your identity. The possibilities are endless. These data that AOL mistakenly released to the public is not in the hands of countless of people in the world. In fact, there is already a public searchable database for this data. Welcome AOL Search Database. You can filter your search result to User ID, Search Keywords, Date of Search, and Website Result.

AOL apologized about this, AOL spokesperson Andrew Weinstein posted this around the net:

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.

We apologize again for the release.

Andrew Weinstein
AOL Spokesman

Check how the blogosphere is talking about this issue here.

And according to this blog post: AOL search data proves myspace killing dating sites:

Google/ AOL have just given some of the worlds biggest spammers a breakdown of high traffic terms its just a matter of weeks now until google gets mega spammed with made for adsense sites and other kind of spam sites targetting keywords contained in this list.

This will probably have a huge effect for the ring tone market. All those big ring tone affiliates doing $200k+ a month are about to have some huge competition. At $12.00/signup bidding on many of these keywords gives you a ROI of 8:1 even at 20 cents a click.

Best of all (or worst depending on your perspective):
AOL Search Data Shows Users Planning to commit Murder, yes, Minority Report, get ready people of Planet Earth.

Well, in the past, I posted about how employers search their potential new employees in the search engines to determine fif they are of good character and reputation, this new publicly available data will put it steps ahead. Imagine your employer searching for what you searched in the past just to decide if s/he will hire you or fire you.

Craig Silverman, a recruiter at, a recruiting-services company based in Salem, N.H., recently was seeking a sales candidate for one of his clients. Instead of turning to a large online resume bank such as, he posted the job on one of the many networking sites he has joined. One resume caught his eye, but when he went to the candidate’s online profile on, he found the applicant had posted photos of himself shirtless and exposing “body art,” Mr. Silverman says.

Aware that his client was concerned about the “presentation aspect” of candidates, “how they dress, how they present themselves” to employers, Mr. Silverman says, he quickly ruled out the tattooed-and-pierced candidate.

Many recent college graduates and young professionals are avid users of social-networking sites that are blossoming across the Internet. But as Mr. Silverman’s case makes clear, the information on these sites can leak into a job search, sometimes hurting one’s chances of landing a position.

(Blogging and Working, an excerpt from CareerJournal)

Good luck to all, and again, protect yourself by being responsible and wise – specially what you do online. Hey, today’s world is inter-connected and “backed-up”. And data such as these, when released (be it unintentionally or not), will not go offline or be kept private anymore – the Social-Networking Generation, that’s where we all are now.

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