The AOL search data saga continues, with news from Techcrunch that the first web interface to the 20 million search queries ‘mistakenly’ released by the firm last week has been published.
AOL has removed the information, which reveals the searches of 650,000 users over a three-month period, after receiving widespread criticism that it was a breach of their privacy.
However, it had already been downloaded by several hundred people. One, as reported by Michael Arrington at Techcrunch, has created a mySQL database allows readers to search the data via user ID, search terms, date of search or website results.
It has been a bad few months for AOL, which is in the middle of a strategic restructure.
The company attracted widespread negative PR last month after an AOL user called Vincent Ferrari recorded his 'I want to cancel my subscription' phone call (he anticipated problems - AOL is notoriously difficult to leave). After 21 minutes of curve balls and question dodging, the AOL 'customer service' rep finally relented and process Vincent's request. Vince then posted the call to his website - Digg, Reddit, Delicious and the New York Times did the rest; Vince went viral.
AOL subsequently reduced call centre headcount by 5,000 and has dropped its long-standing subscription model. This latest gaff is more dangerous than the Vincent Ferrari episode, since it directly impacts on existing AOL users, and if there's one thing internet users hate it is a breach of privacy.
We're wondering how Google must be feeling, having invested $1bn for a 5% stake in AOL last year...