It’s been just over a week since we learned that AOL inadvertently released three months worth of search history for 670,000 users. While the furor has died down slightly, it seems likely that we’ll be hearing about this issue for quite some time. So much data was revealed that it could take a while before we fully understand the implications, and just how much damage may be inflicted on individual users. As scandals go, this one shows no sign of going away any time soon.
Early reaction to the news has been surprisingly varied. Data researchers were initially gleeful at the opportunity to work with extremely large data sets generated in a real-world environment. Privacy advocates were outraged and pointed out that while the data was anonymized, the search queries themselves can be used to identify users. Meanwhile, a large portion of the blogosphere has become fascinated with user 17556639 and his apparent plans to kill his wife. It’s entirely possible that law enforcement may be searching the logs for possible signs of criminal activity.