AOL Releases Private User Search Queries

NEW YORK — Responding to an apparent privacy breakdown, AOL has apologized for releasing search queries generated by more than 650,000 of its users.

Word of the information leak spread like wildfire on the Internet when blogs began linking to a database of search queries compiled by the Time Warner-owned company over the past three months.

A research unit inside of AOL released the data — which the company maintains was supposed to remain private — in late July. Shortly after the release, blogs, lead by, began linking to the study, which consists of more than 20 million search queries.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinsten apologized on behalf of the company.

"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," Weinstein said. "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."

AOL is actively trying to determine precisely how the information was leaked to the public, Weinstein said.

According to attorney Jason Epstein, the disclosure, though embarrassing, probably did not violate AOL’s own privacy policy.

"This is more of a business snafu than anything else," Epstein said.

While AOL may not have a legal problem arising out of the leak, it certainly has created a breach of trust with its users, according to several bloggers who linked to the study.

“If you searched for something on AOL this year, you might want to think about what keywords you used and which links you clicked on," blogger Matthew Gifford said.

According to TechCrunch, none of the queries included users’ identities. However, many users conducted so-called “vanity queries,” typing in their own names.

"Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment,” TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington said. “Combine them with ‘buy ecstasy’ and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc. and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless."

The link to the actual file containing the searches in question is no longer available on AOL’s website.

In March, federal Judge James Ware ordered Google to submit 50,000 random website addresses to the U.S. Department of Justice. Many privacy experts had praised Google for taking a stand against the government’s efforts to resurrect the 1998 Child Online Protection Act. In the same case, Ware, citing privacy concerns, declined to give the government access to 5,000 Internet queries the government had requested to build a database of online search habits.

AOL’s recent leak effectively gives the world access to more than 650,000 similar queries, a CNET blog said.

Copyright © 2024 Adnet Media. All Rights Reserved. XBIZ is a trademark of Adnet Media.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission is prohibited.

More News

UK Tory Minister Blames Joblessness Crisis on Pornography, Video Games

The U.K. Tory government’s Work and Pensions Secretary this week blamed “pornography and video games” for what he called “a mental health crisis among young men” which resulted in them leaving the workforce.

Sexologist Dr. Susan Block Reports Legal Action Against Meta for Deplatforming

Sexologist Dr. Susan Block has reported that she has filed a complaint against Meta seeking arbitration for “wrongful business practices,” including lack of accountability, algorithmic discrimination and deactivation of her sex advice accounts.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin Joins Press Conference Alongside Anti-Porn Crusading Group NCOSE

Democratic U.S. Senator for Illinois Dick Durbin participated in a joint press conference Wednesday organized by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to marshal support for the controversial Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT), alongside crusading anti-porn group NCOSE (formerly Morality in Media).

YouPay, Layers Accountancy Partner to Offer Financial Advice to UK Creators

Gifting platform YouPay has partnered with accounting firm Layers Accountancy to offer U.K.-based creators financial and tax advice to operate their businesses successfully.

U of Wisconsin Professor Pens Essay About Crusade to Get Him Fired for Creating Adult Content

A veteran University of Wisconsin professor, who was removed from his post as chancellor last year due to creating and appearing in adult content, has penned a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing his ordeal and ongoing attempts to fire him from his tenured position.

Fans Utopia Launches Fans Utopia+

Creator merch platform Fans Utopia has launched a new website, Fans Utopia+, designed to support up-and-coming performers who seek to connect with their fans and sell merchandise without committing to the full-service model offered by the flagship service.

AEBN Trends Article Probes Threesomes

AEBN has published a report on threesomes, comparing theory with practice, and fantasy with reality.

Centrobill Now Offering Fully Licensed PIX Payments in Brazil

Centrobill has integrated PIX payments into its services for the Brazilian market.

Spain's Government Fails in Attempt to Recriminalize, 'Abolish' Sex Work

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) suffered a sound defeat on Tuesday in its attempt to recriminalize sex work in Spain, as a controversial bill promoted by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government failed to gain parliamentary support among the party’s ruling coalition allies.

Heritage Foundation President Calls Trump God's 'Imperfect Instrument' to Achieve Porn Ban

The president of the Heritage Foundation has asserted to CNN that Donald Trump’s notorious interactions with porn stars do not disqualify the presumptive Republican nominee from implementing the conservative organization’s plan to criminalize all production and distribution of adult content.

Show More