AOL’s big mistake

Janet Babin Aug 8, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Oops! Time Warner is the parent company for AOL, and admits it did something it didn’t mean to do. It released the search records of more than 650,000 AOL member on a public Web site about 10 days ago. Janet Babin takes a peek at what was leaked.

JANET BABIN: One user’s search was titled: how to kill your wife. Another looked for naked Russian women.

AOL says people’s names weren’t included in the data, but the company admits that the search queries contain information that could make someone identifiable, like social security numbers and credit card numbers.

AOL has since removed the information, but Law professor Michael Froomkin at the University of Miami says the company made a huge mistake that it might not ever be able to correct.

MICHAEL FROOMKIN: “The only thing that can be said in their favor is that when they recognized just how bad it was, they pulled the file. But of course nothing dies right, so it’s available, it’s being shared through peer to peer file systems, this file is never going away.”

AOL released the material as it tried to reach out to the academic community.

The breach comes as the company revises its business model and tries to get more people to use it as a search engine.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.