In 2006, AOL made an epic misjudgment. As part of a research project headed by Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, AOL made available to the public a massive amount of search data, releasing the search history of 650,000 users over a 3-month period. That totaled some twenty one million searches. Before releasing the data they anonymized it, stripping away user names and replacing them with numbers. Yet because of the nature of the data, people very quickly linked real people to abstract numbers--a massive violation of privacy and confidentiality. Within days AOL realized its mistake and withdrew the data. But already it had been copied and posted elsewhere on the internet where today it lives on in infamy.

Some searches were dark and disturbing, others unremarkable in every way, and still others strangely amusing. Often you could reconstruct a person's life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time. Consider this user:

shipping pets 2006-03-01 16:36:48
does ata ship pets 2006-03-01 17:10:35
shipping pets 2006-03-01 21:33:30
continental.com 2006-03-01 21:34:53
pet shipping 2006-03-01 21:35:11
cat with broken bones diarreah and looks like blood 2006-03-04 03:14:52
broken bones in cat 2006-03-04 03:31:53
cat has broken bones above base of tail vet said it will heal on its own 2006-03-04 03:32:53
cat broken bones and diarreah 2006-03-04 03:58:24
do cats menstrate 2006-03-04 14:09:09
cat health 2006-03-04 14:10:22
cat has broken bones wasn't bleeding before but now is and now she can't defecate too 2006-03-04 14:16:35
mucous blood diarreah in cat 2006-03-04 14:22:47

The moral of this particular story seems to be that you don't want to pay for cheap shipping for your new cat.

This AOL data raised ...

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