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AOL sued over search engine data release

Privacy breach suit launched

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A trio of AOL subscribers are suing the media giant over the public release of search engine queries.

The Californian lawsuit (PDF), which seeks class action status, is the first to cry foul over AOL's release of some 19m search queries by around 650,000 AOL subscribers over a three month period, AP reports.

The data was anonymised, but the parties to the lawsuit contend that enough personal information was contained in the data to identify at least some people who submitted search queries. Both the New York Times and Washington Post were able to link search queries to named individuals.

AOL has apologised for the incident and pulled the data from its own sites. But the damage to privacy has already been done as the information was widely reposted online before AOL pulled the plug.

The lawsuit cites AOL for violating California's Electronic Communications Privacy Act (among other statutes) and accuses the internet giant of "fraudulent and deceptive business practices". AOL ought to provide unspecified compensation for every person whose search data was exposed, the suit demands.

AOL declined to comment on the lawsuit which is only one aspect of the mess it's landed itself in by its publication of search engine data, an incident it blames on a researcher who'd failed to clear his project with bosses.

The researcher and another AOL worker were dismissed over the incident, which prompted the resignation of AOL's chief technology officer. In addition to widespread criticism from privacy advocates and lawmakers, AOL has to answer a Federal Trade Commission complaint over the incident. ®

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