AOL Data: First Searcher Identified

Techcrunch has information on the first person positively identified from the AOL data. AOL searcher number 4417749 has been identified as Thelma Arnold, a 62 year old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia.

As you might expect, the searches made by her are pretty innocent. Her search queries range from “numb fingers” to “60 single men” to “dog that urinates on everything.” The New York Times has a pretty in-depth article about Thelma and other, yet unidentified searchers.

Ms. Arnold, who agreed to discuss her searches with a reporter, said she was shocked to hear that AOL had saved and published three months’ worth of them. “My goodness, it’s my whole personal life,” she said. “I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder.”

In the privacy of her four-bedroom home, Ms. Arnold searched for the answers to scores of life’s questions, big and small. How could she buy “school supplies for Iraq children”? What is the “safest place to live”? What is “the best season to visit Italy”?

Wonder when we can expect the first lawsuits to be filed? Personally, I expected some yesterday. AOL had a shitty reputation before, I’d be surprised if this doesn’t end up sinking them at some point.

Web Interface for AOL Data

A commenter over at Techcrunch put together a simple little web interface to the AOL search data.

Michael Arrington from Techcrunch spoke with Andrew Weinstein over the phone lastnight about this. Andrew is the AOL employee who first issued the apology that can be seen over at Techcrunch. Anyway, Michael thinks Andrew is truly pissed off about what happened, as he definitely should be.

What I’d like to know, is how the decision came about to release this data in the first place. This had to be a decision made from pretty high up the ladder. Another thing, AOL shouldn’t even allow access to this data in it’s raw format. Or, very, very few people should be able to access the raw data, except for a few servers. I mean, nobody at AOL should have any reason to use such detailed data. Instead, there should be a reporting type system that runs reports based on the raw search data, that way nobody can actually see the data itself, only the summarized reports.

I don’t think Jason’s idea of turning off logging is practical. It’s really quite simple, don’t allow access to the raw log data.

Philipp Lenssen has some pretty good commentary over at Google Blogoscoped. He’s taken some time to see what individuals are searching for, pretty amusing:

At 10:08 PM, 28963 looks for “porn sites”. 28963 quickly amends the search query to read “freee porn sites”. (Two days later, 28963 shows a sudden interest in genital warts.)

He’s got a lot more of them, so head over to Google Blogoscoped for more amusement. Garett Rogers at the Googling Google blog at ZDnet has some commentary too.

This is the type of news that will reach every single AOL user. People will be boycotting the company because of their blatent disregard for the privacy of users. As my fellow Canadians would understand — this could be the TSN turning point.

Markus Frind has put together nice post detailing how one AOL user likes searching for ways to commit murder. Some of his commenter’s are upset, but Markus asks some good questions:

Users in the comments are pissed off at the idea that people can be arrested for planning a crime like murder, calling it minority report like. I ask you why is it that americans have no problems arresting people that are planning or researching how to conduct terrorist attacks? Yet if a person plans on killing his wife that is ok, until he actually does it? How many people do you have to plan on killing before its ok for a company like AOL to hand your records over to the government? I am not taking sides, I’m just pointing out the obvious double standard. This story will open a can of worms, and will decide just how private your data online really is.