IT Trends :: Thursday, August 10, 2006


AOL Spills: The Rest of Us Feel Chills

By Terry Calhoun

What if we could know what you are planning to do? What if we thought we knew what you are planning to do? What if law enforcement thought it knew what you were planning to do? These became questions for the real world earlier this week.

Q: Is it possible to identify someone with precision if you know nothing about them except the text of the queries they have typed into a search engine?

A: Yes.

How do we know? A research group at AOL thought it would be useful for academics to analyze the search text query data, and shared AOL’s online. They apparently didn’t have the authority to do so, but didn’t know that. AOL took it down pretty fast, but the genie was out of the bottle and it had been copied and transmitted all over the Internet. The data even tells you whether a searcher clicked on a corresponding link. Some sites are now devoted to making it available for anyone to play with...

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