Insider Blogging looks at the blogs about our favorite companies, exposing the last legal way to get "inside information."
I'm what you might call a First Amendment scholar, having taken law-school-level courses on the subject and researched a number of such cases for my various, data-rich employers. And even though I'm a political liberal, I have a bias against extending "privacy" laws to online behavior, especially when said online behavior is conducted on very public services. I just don't agree that there is a "compelling interest" in protecting one's search behavior, especially if it can't be definitively traced back to the individual. In a free society, private enterprises should be able to do whatever they wish with the information you type into their tools; unless they've told you otherwise. In my opinion? Your behavior on a search engine is just as protectable as anything else you do in the public realm; what groceries you purchase, for instance, or what car you drive.
So I'm entirely not shocked that AOL put a bunch of customer search data (without, it must be noted, any identifying information about who did the searching) online 10 days ago. Now, apologies have been issued ("This was a screw-up, and we're angry and upset," says a spokesperson). I seem to be in the minority, however; the internet, it is horrified.
Michael Arrington at TechCrunch seems to be most shocked, saying that "The utter stupidity of this is staggering ," [emphasis his] and he claims that "the abilitiy to analyze all searches by a single user will often lead people to easily determine who the user is, and what they are up to ... many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with "buy ecstasy" and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless."
Wow. That's a bit inflammatory, Michael, don't you think?