If you used AOL for searching, you probably know by now that your search history has been published by the company. Not your name, but an ID along with all the information about where you went on the internet looking for things. At least they did that to 650,000 of their users. The story.
The reason for releasing it was to allow internet scholars and researchers to understand how people use the internet better. Perhaps laudable. But it reveals once again what everyone who uses the internet ought to continually remember, that what you do is really no secret. So if you are going to worship sites or gathering online with those who are praying for peace in the world, you’re probably not overly concerned. If you thought where you were going was completely your business and you are not particularly proud of it, yeah, you are probably a little upset about this. Rightfully so. AOL has apologized, said it was a mistake, the decision wasn’t properly “vetted.” (I hate that term–it implies lawyers are involved as it a common term in legal circles. The sad truth is that when people perceive that lawyers are involved they suddenly become suspicious about hiding things, protecting the company from legal problems, and then they think there is more to it than there probably is.)
What I find intriguing other than seeing how AOL is attempting to get out of this tight spot, is to see how a little Dutch search engine company is doing some very clever PR to make sure they are standing there saying “Look at us, we don’t keep search records, come search with us.” Here’s how it plays in this CNet story. Ixquick (they should have been as clever with their name as their PR) sees the opportunity and moves in. I’d love to see how this was done. I suspect they did their best to get the word out before and it so happens when this story broke, they were quick to alert reporters and key resources like CNet to show the clear differentiation. Good marketing for them. Bad PR for AOL.