EFF complains to FTC about AOL's search records release

The EFF filed a complaint with the FTC about AOL's release of search data.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to force AOL to help the people whose search records it recently released.

In a complaint filed Monday, the EFF requests that the FTC investigate the incident and have AOL notify, via electronic and postal mail, all affected persons that their search results were released.

AOL should also pay for at least one year of credit monitoring service for each person, because the release of the records puts these people at risk for identity theft, the EFF charges. The EFF is a nonprofit organization focused on protecting civil liberties in technology contexts, such as computing and the Internet.

An AOL spokesman said the company, a Time Warner subsidiary, has no comment about the EFF complaint, but added that AOL can't identify the accounts involved. "There is no way to unscramble the identifier codes back into the account names," he said.

The FTC should also force AOL to refrain from collecting and storing logs of its users' search activities, except when it has to retain these logs in order to properly provide a service. Even then, AOL should never store these logs in personally identifiable form for more than 14 days, the EFF said.

The complaint arises from the disclosure last week that AOL had made available on its AOL Research Web site about 20 million search records from about 658,000 of its members, covering the three-month period between March and May.

Although AOL didn't disclose the names of the members, it did group each person's records with a unique number, making it possible to see what each individual searched for. The data included search queries, as well as Web sites the members clicked on to.

AOL acknowledged the release had been a lapse in judgement and removed the data file from its Web site, but the records are now available on many Web sites. Bloggers and journalists have had a field day analyzing the queries, which contain all sorts of sensitive information, from credit card, telephone and Social Security numbers, to birth dates, full names and addresses.

Some queries show users sought child pornography, information about commiting suicide and murder and guidance about dealing with sexual abuse. The New York Times even managed to track down one of the affected members and, with her permission, interviewed and identified her.

With this faux pas, AOL engaged in deceptive and unfair trade practices that violate FTC rules, and as such the FTC should look into the matter and take action, according to the EFF.

In its complaint, the EFF also asks that AOL be ordered to obtain a biannual assessment and report from an independent professional about its privacy protection policies and methods.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?