RealTime IT News

AOL Sued Over Search Leak

AOL leaked 20 million search queries in late July and now a class-action suit filed in California aims to make them pay for it.

The class-action suit alleges that AOL violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and a set of California fair business laws, according to copy of the suit obtained by internetnews.com.

The nationwide class is defined as all AOL members in the United States whose search queries were disclosed without their consent between Jan. 1, 2004, till the present.

The suit seeks $1,000 for each member of the nationwide class, another $4,000 for each member of a California subclass and to force AOL to stop recording search queries and destroy any it has on record.

All three of the primary plaintiffs were AOL members at the time of the leak. The two primary plaintiffs from California are using a pseudonym to protect their privacy. The third is Kasdoe Ramkissoon of Richmond County, New York.

"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein told internetnews.com at the time after AOL removed the search queries from its site.

But the suit alleges that even though AOL was quick to remove the queries, damage had already been done because the data had already been reposted to other sites on the Web and become part of a public record.

Dispersed financial information included names, street addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, passwords and usernames.

The queries also included birthdates, phone numbers and driver's license numbers.

The suit points to sites such as AOLsearchdatabase.com, easily found through most search engines, including AOL's, where the data has been reposted and made more searchable.

The suit also alleges that AOL recorded and stored each search query without the knowledge and consent of its members, though AOL's privacy policy stated that the company kept such records.