AOL may have just stole their own crown. Cloning better technology then stupidifying it is not enough to truly make AOL AOL. Where others look to raise the bar, AOL looks to lower it, only to trip over it, and knock themselves out by slamming head first into a fire hydrant.
Recently a mind boggeling amount of personally identifiable user data was given away in an attempt to pump AOL Research. The official link to download over 20 Million AOL Search queries has been removed, but download mirrors are already up.
Before you let AOL off the hook for being idiots, consider the following:
AOL just released the logs of all searches done by 500,000 of their users over the course of three months earlier this year. That means that if you happened to be randomly chosen as one of these users, everything you searched for from March to May (2006) is now public information on the internet.
This was not a leak - it was intentional. In their desperation to gain recognition from the research community, AOL decided they would compromise their integrity to provide a data set that might become often-cited in research papers: "Please reference the following publication when using this collection..." is the message before the download.
A Digg user had one of my favorite comments about the time stamped usage data:
11467570 how to turn off my recent searches on aol 2006-05-28 18:44:42
although other searches were far more frightening, including searches about how to kill their wife. Will people eventually be jailed for their thoughts, their searches, or others planting bad searches on them?
And to think Google invested a billion dollars in that hunk of trash. Wonder if this latest move will cause AOL to bleed customers faster than workers. And what might be even a bit scarier is that TechCrunch noted that Excite has released similar data in the past and MSN proposed releasing similar research.