August 8, 2006

the chilling effect of the AOL search disclosure

The NY Times found one: A Face is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749 (sub req'd).

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from “numb fingers” to “60 single men” to “dog that urinates on everything.”

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”

It's tempting to point out that there's only 649,999 to go. In other words, the direct privacy implications seem to be relatively small for the vast majority of users in AOL's database disclosure. It's bad, but it's narrowly drawn (of course the impact on AOL's brand perception is a whole other story). But hey, here's a question for you. The Times quotes user #4417749: “My goodness, it’s my whole personal life,” she said. “I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder.”

As an experienced Internaut, you knew this all along. But now that you are confronted with hard evidence that Google, Yahoo, AOL and others really are looking over your shoulder and keeping the logs, are you being more careful what you search for?

So where do we go from here? What do you think your rights are with respect to Internet search? Do you think your search is protected against unreasonable search and seizure? Do you believe search is protected speech? That is to say, do you think your search keyword stream is a form of free speech, guaranteed by your (USA) Bill of Rights? If so, then do you think search logs like the AOL data create a chilling effect on your search/speech?

If you are legitimately researching information on illegal or highly controversial subjects, are you going to search from your own computer?

Posted by Gene at August 8, 2006 10:20 PM | TrackBack

some company created a search tool using this info...its pretty cool... you can check it out here go into the blog...should be the second one

Posted by: mike at August 9, 2006 7:32 AM

Coming soon, the search records of people who searched the AOL search records...

Posted by: gene at August 9, 2006 8:13 AM
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