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AOL: Funny Ha Ha, Funny Sad

Two weeks ago, AOL mistakenly released about 3 months worth of search logs. In the data, the user-ids were replaced with numbers, in an attempt to “anonymize” the data. Despite this anonymization, the release of this data clearly violated the privacy of a great number of AOL users, and AOL quickly stopped publishing the data, but by then it was too late. The cat was out of the bag.

The data can still be downloaded via BitTorrent, and you can sift thru the data using websites like this one and this one.

Other websites started publishing amusing and bizarre excerpts from the logs.

The data in these logs is fascinating and has already taught me a few things.

1) Most AOL users are noobs. Okay, I already knew this. I mean, c’mon: all the grandmas and grandpas in my family stopped using AOL over two years ago, so clearly anyone who is still using it has got to be pretty clueless (sorry grandma!). The logs make this pretty apparent: they are chock full of stuff like this:

4274108 aol i want to change my email password
16275232 how can i check my email
10532040 what is my email adress

2) AOL search isn’t very good. Okay, I knew this already too. The number one thing that AOL users type into their search box is the name of a better search engine. Google is #1, and Yahoo is #2. Clearly, these users are looking for something better, but just don’t quite know how to obtain it. Also there are are a very high number of searches in which the first 7-8 results are deemed to be insufficient, and the user continues looking.

3) “Anonymizing” web logs by using numbers of instead of user-ids does little to protect the privacy of the users. The New York Times very quickly sussed out the identity of one of these users, and I am sure others will follow. A search of phrases like “my password” reveals all kinds of potentially damaging stuff.

4) Anonymized search logs, in addition to not protecting privacy very well,are highly entertaining. It is incredibly easy to find search histories that read like dime store pulp fiction. Consider the following excerpts from user 14162375, which I dug up by searching for the phrase “kill my”.

14162375 marriage counseling
14162375 spy on the wife
14162375 spy recorders
14162375 signs of cheating
14162375 tracking cell phone numbers
14162375 dealing with cheating wives
14162375 divorce lawyers
14162375 cheating wives
14162375 saving a marriege
14162375 sex products
14162375 sexual techiques
14162375 www.americagreentings.com
14162375 stop your divorce
14162375 alchool withdrawl sintoms
14162375 disfunctional erection
14162375 cheating therapy
14162375 women’s urine blood
14162375 spy from a distance
14162375 listen through walls
14162375 car sound recorder
14162375 car conversation spy
14162375 spy on wife
14162375 phico card readers
14162375 st. petersburg fl medium
14162375 psychic
14162375 psychic st.pete fl
14162375 get my wife back
14162375 i want revenge to my wife
14162375 get revenge from a wife cheater
14162375 munchies
14162375 lisbon jobs
14162375 divorce and kids
14162375 my wife wants to leave me
14162375 how do i get my wife love me again
14162375 need help getting my wife back
14162375 i want my wife bach
14162375 i need my wife to get back to me
14162375 my wife doesnt love animore
14162375 i still live whith my wife can i get her bach
14162375 i want revenge towards my wife
14162375 making my wife suffer as i do
14162375 making even with my wife
14162375 get my wife back
14162375 foxsoccerchnnel.com
14162375 get my wife back
14162375 avoid breaking up
14162375 my wife doesn’t love me anymore
14162375 stop breaking up
14162375 get even with my wife
14162375 husband revenge
14162375 how to harm my wifes lover
14162375 infidelity
14162375 catch your wife having an affair
14162375 baby monitors
14162375 my cheating wife
14162375 i want to kill myself
14162375 suicide help
14162375 helpe me with suicide
14162375 i want to make my wife suffer
14162375 kill my wifes mistress
14162375 my wifes ass
14162375 a cheating wife
14162375 recording home survellence
14162375 audio room surveillance
14162375 www.cornerspyshop.com
14162375 get rid of cheating wives
14162375 sore muscules
14162375 make the infidelity suffer
14162375 i am so italian
14162375 the portuguese mafia
14162375 www.ymca.comportuguese mafia
14162375 www.airportugal

A good way to find salacious material in this database is to search for phrases like “clear all” or “erase history” which almost always follow searches the user would prefer to cover up.

Anonymous User 4320454, is one of a handful of users who attempted to clear their search history by typing “clear all searches”, in this case because he had been searching for “how many days or hours for cocaine to leave the system to be clean for drug urine test for employment”. It didn’t take.

Ohio user 4838451, interrupted a long night of searching for Fran Drescher porn to search for Senator Mike Dewine, followed by a few more porn searches and then “clear all searches”. It didn’t take.

2 Responses to “AOL: Funny Ha Ha, Funny Sad”

  1. Abomb990 Says:

    I read this last week and laughed, this is a class A fumble on AOL. good find

  2. & » Blog Archive » AOL Search Database Says:

    […] This is pretty old news by Internet standards, but now it is up and I can play with the search pages and maybe I can come up with some interesting statistics or experiment that others haven’t done yet. Speaking of which, I like KrazyDad’s statistics and write up of the data. […]