A privacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate AOL for publishing on the Web search phrases and words used by 658,000 subscribers during a three-month period.
"Search terms can expose the most intimate details of a person's life -- private information about your family problems, your medical history, your financial situation, your political and religious beliefs, your sexual preferences, and much more," EFF attorney Marcia Hofmann said in a statement issued this week. "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, and AOL should not store this kind of data in the future when it doesn't have to."
AOL confirmed last week that it had posted and then taken down the information and apologized for what the company said was a mistake on the part of its research team. Nevertheless, the data was available on the Internet for days, which was long enough for it to be downloaded and posted on other sites.
In releasing the data, AOL tried to hide the identity of the people whose search patterns were tracked by replacing their names with numbers. The New York Times, however, was able to identify users based on the information listed.