Might AOL’s release of the logs of nearly 20 million web searches documenting three months of activity by 650,000 AOL users serve to raise awareness of the privacy concerns with web search surveillance (that I’ve been writing about forever)? Seth Finkelstein hopes so, but also warns that the potential abuse of the released data by hackers and big business might be even worse than what we were concerned about when the DOJ asked for it:
AOL has just given us the world’s biggest real-world experiment as to whether privacy invasion can be done from search-engine data. Previously, when discussing the Google Search subpoena, all people could do was speculate – the data might have this, it could include that, maybe possibly someone could do this from it. Now we have both a huge amount of data, and many interested geeks playing with it and mining it.
I joked we’ll now see a huge distributed reverse-engineering collaborative effort to track down as many anonymous user ID’s as possible. At least, I hope that was joke. Maybe it wasn’t.
Note this data is being far, far, more widely released than the subpoena data, which would have been under confidentiality agreements and protective orders. Worrying about Big Government can be a distraction over far worse Big Corporations.