EFF Goes After AOL

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) to investigate AOL’s disclosure
of search data for 650,000 users.

In its complaint, the privacy group asked the government to investigate
the data breach, force AOL to pay for credit monitoring for users
affected and waive fees for subscribers wanting to cancel the online
service.

Last week, AOL admitted it had “screwed up” by making search data from
March to May available to researchers on research.aol.com.

Although a red-faced AOL quickly removed the 440MB downloadable file,
the information spread across the Internet and is being used by both
individuals and businesses.

“We have no way of identifying the 658,000” accounts impacted,
AOL spokesperson Andrew Weinstein told internetnews.com. The company has launched an
investigation into how this occurred, he said.

AOL twice violated the FTC’s deceptive trade practices by not
protecting consumer information from public disclosure and failing to
use proper security to protect consumer information, the EFF charged in
its government complaint.

Weinstein said the company’s
privacy policy is sufficient.

But EFF attorney Marcia Hofman said in a statement that AOL isn’t doing enough.

“At the very least, AOL should notify every customer whose privacy
has been jeopardized by the company’s careless handling of this
incredibly private information.”

Hofman said the disclosure exposed financial, medical
and sexual details of users conducting searches on AOL.

“People treat their search engine like a confidant,” EFF
attorney Kevin Bankston told
internetnews.com.

EFF would like to raise the protection of
search engine strings to that of e-mail. The history of what you
search for is as intimate as your e-mail, said Bankston.

The EFF asked the FTC to order AOL to stop storing logs of search
requests.

“But this problem isn’t limited to AOL –- every search
company stores this kind of data,” according to Bankston in a statement.

Earlier this year, AOL and other search engines faced Department of
Justice subpoenas asking for records to assist in preventing child
pornography.

AOL, MSN and Yahoo complied with the subpoena, while Google
fought the government request in court.

Search
data supplied to the DoJ likely carried the same privacy risk as the
information unwittingly made public by AOL, according to Bankston.

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