AOL made one of the biggest online privacy blunders in the history of the web when they released massive amounts of user search data. Eventually The New York Times linked Thelma Arnold to search number 4417749.
Searcher 17556639 searched for things like how to kill your wife. While privacy is important, should data that could imply a desire to commit crime become public prior to the action? How big of a stretch is pre-crime when people type such queries into a search box?
AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft and other search services gave data to the US Department of Justice to comply with the Child Online Protection Act, but Google was one of the few companies to hold out.
More recently Google, in an aim to justify their own data retention, claimed the following:
the IP addresses recorded by every website on the planet without additional information should not be considered personal data, because these websites usually cannot identify the human beings behind these number strings.
Using Google’s own words against them in court, Viacom demanded IP addresses and usernames associated with YouTube video views. Google got authorization to anonymize the data, but AOL’s search data was allegedly anonymous too. Worth thinking about before setting up any additional user accounts or typing anything into a search box.