Monday, August 07, 2006

At least AOL apologizes for its massive privacy breach

A Reuters story by Kenneth Li covers the privacy breach and AOL's apology:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - AOL on Monday apologized for releasing information on about 20 million keyword searches in a move that ignited a firestorm of criticism about privacy rights on the Internet.

AOL, the online unit of media conglomerate Time Warner Inc., said it launched an internal investigation into how a research division of the company mistakenly released the data on its Web site about 10 days ago.

AOL released search information on about 20 million searches done from its software by about 658,000 anonymous AOL users over a three-month period, representing about one-third-of-1-percent of searches conducted over that time.

The disclosure, which AOL said was not cleared through official channels, came months after Google Inc. won kudos from privacy pundits for refusing to comply with U.S. government requests for search data on its users.

"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," said Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman. "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 user information was not disclosed, keyword searches have included users who search their own names...

One legal expert said the disclosure probably did not violate the company's own privacy policy as the data did not include personally identifiable information.

"This is more of a business snafu than anything else," Jason Epstein, head of the business and technology group at law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC said.
As with almost anything released on the Web, enough copies were made to other sites that AOL's removal of the file will not unspill the water.

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Comment by Blogger Jim Horning:

Make a resolution to always start every search session with a search for "Alberto Gonzales" or "Antonin Scalia" or other privacy foe.

12:04 PM  

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