August 17, 2006

AOL Party Line

Because I like to think there is a little voyeur in all of us (truthfully, would reality TV exist if there weren't?) this story of AOL screwing over their clients is just one big gasp-inducing news piece.

America On-Line released three months worth of the search requests made by 658,000 subscribers. They say it was a slip. They pulled down the info, but by then other sites had grabbed it and made it available.

In a nutshell, what they published was a listing of every search term that these subscribers had typed into the search bar. Most of it's mundane stuff. Some of it is absolutely incredible. The problem came with posting the customer number along with them, where a fairly easy reverse search technique revealed their names. Their real names. It's like, let's say, you slump over your keyboard one morning, feeling like a camel crapped in you mouth and your head is splitting, and you type in 'hangover remedy cheap homemade wine'.

Depending on your situation, you may not want anyone to know you drink. Or, maybe you don't want one of your best friends to know that the garbage he's bottling would be better being poured directly into the toilet. To clean it. Now you're outed.

You can imagine some of the vile things people search for. Or maybe you can't, and I'm not going to burst your virgin sensibilities. One of the best exchanges is this one - a husband and wife using the same computer are cheating on each other. What's not to love?

As always, I think it's a good reminder that even though you think it's just you and your little ol' keyboard tapping away late into the night, no move goes untracked. As stupid as I think AOL is for this colossal screwup, it's a timely little smack in the head for the unassuming among us.

Which is probably all of us, I'm guessing.


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