Usually after hitting rock bottom once, a company learns from its actions and fixes things. Apparently this is not the case with AOL. Earlier yesterday they released a 439MB file (~2GB uncompressed) of approximately 20 million search queries collected from about 650k unique users over roughly 3 months. The AOL research site (the relevant page of which has been taken down) claimed that the data was to be used to..
The goal of this collection is to provide real query log data that is based on real users. It could be used for personalization, query reformulation or other types of search research.
Now the story gets interesting when you realize that AOL search is simply rebranded Google search. You can imagine what kind of a hissy-fit Google will get into now that sensitive information such as their most powerful keywords are thriving on P2P communities at this very moment. With the aforementioned file in hand, an SEO expert can find out which keywords work best and pay well for services like Google AdSense and Google AdWords. Now when a spammer studies this file, they will be having a field day. As one site put it, "Google is gonna get mega spammed." Follow the rest of the blogosphere's reaction on Techmeme.
The utter stupidity of this is staggering. AOL has released very private data about its users without their permission. While the AOL username has been changed to a random ID number, the abilitiy to analyze all searches by a single user will often lead people to easily determine who the user is, and what they are up to. The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box.