AOL. Dumbest. Internet. Company. Ever.

16 comments

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.

Comments

although other searches were

Quote:
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?

The government wants that information for something. Oh yeah, they are fighting terrorism or child pornography or whatever scare tactic will get people behind them.

Quote:
Wonder if this latest move will cause AOL to bleed customers faster than workers.

Not sure. They do make it next to impossible to cancel the service.

woot! Thanks for the mirror

woot!

Thanks for the mirror aaron. I was bumbed that my download was interupted last time.

you rock.

I can't think of a bigger fuckup an ISP has done to date.

But this is some interesting data!

I don't have time to analyze the data

Can't analyze the data, too busy laughing at the searches.

I think Aaron's due some beers at the next seo round up for providing the link to the mirrors.

another use

I guess you can tell in about 3 seconds how many hits any given website received from AOL during a three month period as well (since it provides click through information). Want to know how many hits AOL is sending your competitors? The world's your oyster! Hardly anonymous data.

armchair CSI

We shall see the armchair "CSI" as citizens around the globe start looking for their AOL-account-holding acquaintances, and forming conspiracy theories about their activities... before and after anything that happens in their lives.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, was there some legal reason that this information had to suddenly be in the public domain? Think about it... and watch the news for the next few weeks.

Keep in mind that this is

Keep in mind that this is 650K users...AOL as a whole has a large number more than that, so this is just a data sample.

Speechless. Classic.

Speechless. Classic. Downloading for research.

OMG So cheap!

I remember a company offering me *less* information (no click throughs, less # of searches) for $5,000. THANK YOU AOL!

AOL has given us (or at least maintained)

  • Netscape (before mozilla)
  • Winamp
  • Gnutella
  • AIM

I personally use these programs or their derivatives on a daily basis.

Yes but think of all of the knowledge..

Terrible action, but potential benefit to the internet community is huge.

For exmaple, this tool allows you to view incoming keywords and totals for any site you specify.

This is kinda like viewing log reports for any site out there on the net.

Someone Identified

The NY Times went ahead and was able to identify a searcher and contacted her about her searches.


NYT Article

was coming here to post that, too, MrTurner

Consumerist This is significant enough to warrant its own thread.

Now, for those who have strong concerns about internet search privacy, I suggest that turning up the fetish searches of your state Congressman or Senator might go a long way in proving the point.

Was anybody as surprised as

Was anybody as surprised as me at how quickly the Times was able to identify that person? I wouldn't know where to start, I'd still be working on a methodology.

Not Surprised

Once the data is in a database keying in on things like last names should yield some quick results. Run the data against a phonebook. "Anderson" would appear quickly, tied to the user ID. Key on the user ID...

Even an alpha sort would yield some interesting results.

What I currently know for a fact is that I've got loads of data to look at. be interesting to see the papers that appear as a result of this data gift.

>papers And the title will be....

AOL Search Data Confirms That John Q Is Still Dumb As A Rock!

It's (kinda sadly) reassuring that search IQ hasn't progressed much beyond putting the tape in the vcr and hitting "Play."

Keep in mind

Yes I agree with you with this AOL.

Regards,

Motorola SB6121

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.