Monday, August 14, 2006

AOL Privacy Breach of Search Queries Exposes Users


* EFF Demands FTC Investigation and Privacy Reform After AOL Data Release

Internet Company's Publication of Search Logs Exposes Customers' Private Lives

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today to investigate America Online (AOL) and require changes in its privacy practices, after the company recently released search history logs that exposed the private lives of more than a half-million of its customers.

Last week, news reports revealed that AOL published to the Internet three months of search queries from about 650,000 users. In its complaint, EFF argues that the release of this data violated AOL's privacy policy and the Federal Trade Commission Act and should be investigated. EFF further requests that the FTC require AOL to notify customers affected by the disclosure and to stop logging search data except when absolutely necessary.

"Search terms can expose the most intimate details of a person's life -- private information about your family problems, your medical history, your financial situation, your political and religious beliefs, your sexual preferences, and much more," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "At the very least, AOL should notify every customer whose privacy has been jeopardized by the company's careless handling of this incredibly private information, and AOL should not store this kind of data in the future when it doesn't have to."

While AOL has removed the data from its own web site, the data is still freely available from other sites on the Internet. And although specific AOL screen names were not released, the data is associated with unique ID numbers, allowing each user's search terms to be grouped together. Whether because of users' searches for their own names or MySpace profiles, or searches related to their cities and neighborhoods, these search histories can expose -- and in some cases, already have exposed -- particular users' private searches to the world. In support of its complaint, EFF will confidentially submit examples of search queries containing personally identifiable information and search histories that could likely be tied to particular AOL subscribers.

"We're asking the FTC to make sure that AOL rectifies the damage that's been done and improve its privacy protections for the future," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "But this problem isn't limited to AOL -- every search company stores this kind of data. Hopefully, AOL's shocking violationof its users' privacy will spur Congress to clarify that the same law that prevents these companies from disclosing our personal emails also applies to our search logs."

The FTC complaint will be made available here

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posted by RealitySEO at 10:22 AM

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