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AOL Exposes Search Data Of 658,000 People

AOL apologizes for a "screw-up" that made information available for download through its research site.
Bloggers listed examples of search queries they said were taken from the file. For example, a person with the number 491577 searched for "florida cna pca lakeland tampa," "emt school training florida," "low calorie meals," "infant seat," and "fisher price roller blades," according to Adam D'Angelo, who was a student of California Institute of Technology. The school said he was no longer a student.

Other examples included person 39509 who searched for "ford 352," "oklahoma disciplined pastors," "oklahoma disciplined doctors," and "home loans;" and 545605 who searched for "shore hills park mays landing nj," "ceramic ashtrays," "transfer money to china," and "capital gains on sale of house."

D'Angelo also claimed to have found search queries for illegal drugs and other terms that may interest law enforcement.

AOL said the released data included about a third of a percent of the total U.S. searches conducted through the AOL network during the three-month period. AOL, quoting Web metrics firm ComScore Networks, said its network had 42.7 million unique visitors in May, so the data covered about 1.5 percent of the search users that month.

The disclosure followed by five months a federal court ruling in San Jose, Calif., that drastically scaled back the amount of information the Justice Department sought from Google. The DOJ was seeking the search data in its efforts to revive the 1998 Child Online Protection Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department sought similar information through subpoenas sent to Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and AOL. The three companies complied with the request.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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