Anonymous No More
In early August, officials at America Online released information about searches being conducted by AOL members and users of the AOL search tool. This historical data was released onto the Internet by several AOL officials, to demonstrate how useful such data could be for tracking patterns, uses and interest of AOL members. The data was anonymized, with members being assigned random ID numbers instead of userid’s or names, and was only online for a few days.
The New York Times demonstrated, however, how easy it was to take that anonymized data, and with a few keystrokes, determine the identity of the searcher, and their personal interests, likes and dislikes – indeed to create a profile of users from this anonymized data.
The persons responsible for the "data breach” at AOL were fired – more for a public relations problem than anything else. The case demonstrates how any database, once collected, can be misused, and the significant lack of legal protection for similar information. Anonymous No More
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