Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I always feel like someone is watching me...

Everytime I teach a class to college students about performing research on the WWW I try to impress upon them the ease by which their movements can be tracked, monitored, and observed.

I show them voyeur search sites, such as Metaspy or SearchSpy.

I show them an IP address and how you can look up where the IP is coming from.

I show them how you can look up who owns a particular website so they can check for bias or conflicts of interests. (Although this method isn't a guarantee)...

Now AOL has showen the world and their customers how much more is tracked.

C|net : AOL's disturbing glimpse into users' lives

AOL's publication of the search histories of more than 650,000 of its users has yielded more than just one of the year's bigger privacy scandals.

The 21 million search queries also have exposed an innumerable number of life stories ranging from the mundane to the illicit and bizarre.

For its part, AOL has apologized for a researcher's disclosure of the massive database and has yanked the file from its Web site. It was too late: The database already had been mirrored.

That database does not include names or user identities. Instead, it lists only a unique ID number for each user. What that means is that it's possible to view the search terms that users of a single account typed in while using AOL Search during a three-month period. (Google, Yahoo, and MSN Search aren't included.)

From that massive list of search terms, for instance, it's possible to guess that AOL user 710794 is an overweight golfer, owner of a 1986 Porsche 944 and 1998 Cadillac SLS, and a fan of the University of Tennessee Volunteers Men's Basketball team. The same user, 710794, is interested in the Cherokee County School District in Canton, Ga., and has looked up the Suwanee Sports Academy in Suwanee, Ga., which caters to local youth, and the Youth Basketball of America's Georgia affiliate...

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