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AOL has fired its chief technology officer and two other employees following the inadvertent release this month of search records of more than 650,000 of the internet company's members, a move AOL itself called a "screw-up" that has stoked a heated debate about internet privacy.
Maureen Govern, who became technology chief last September, has left the company and her position has been temporarily taken by John McKinley, her predecessor. The researcher who released the data – that was aimed at academics researching search patterns but was widely copied across the web – and the researcher's supervisor have also been fired, according to people familiar with the matter.
AOL Fires Tech Chief After Data 'Screw-Up' [msnbc.msn.com]
One small step to corporate (and maybe political) US understanding just how sensitive personal data is. Once someone has stolen your ID, life becomes very difficult...
In this one small area the EU is 10+ years ahead of the US in protecting its citizens from attack/misuse/stupidity.
The firing of the CTO implies that CTOs are to micro-manage their staff.
I would have fired the Chief Compliance Officer.
Privacy and corporate needs are not uniquely US specific.
[edited by: Tapolyai at 4:24 pm (utc) on Aug. 22, 2006]
Yes, clearly very unfortunate for the individual members of staff involved as I'm quite happy to believe that there was no malicious intent and possibly no rules or laws (except of common sense) broken.
But the CxO role is partly a figurehead role (I have a CTO role!) and figureheads exist partly to roll (pun fully intended) in crises.
Meanwhile, websites have been set-up to allow anyone to sort through the data and articles offering analysis are appearing everywhere.
We should start a thread (here?) of links to worthwhile articles with good analysis of the data.
Here's my very short (one sentence) analysis-
The number one searched website on AOL: Google.
ROTFL, although Lee Gomes wrote in the WSJ last week that searching for Google might be efficient Web surfing. "You're relying on the friendly, type-fixing search box, rather than the unforgiving URL bar at the top of your browser."
Gomes made several interesting points:
"One thing about us Internet users: We like our music, we like our pictures, we like our sex -- and we like them all free."
Gomes found out something that headline writers have known forever: "the most commonly used word in the 17.15 million separate searches was "free." If something isn't free, it better at least be "new," as that was the next-most common word." He reports the next most popular words were "lyrics," "county," "school," "city," "home," "state," "pictures," "music," "sale," "beach," "high," "map," "center" and "sex."
Many are talking about how the data shows that 42% of the time people clicked on the first link presented to them.
In regards to privacy, Gomes closed with this story:
Data aside, reading these queries is like listening in on random phone calls; even if you don't know who is talking, the experience can be wrenching.
Consider the person who, over the course of a few minutes, searched for
"What to do when your Christian husband turns away from God," "How to deal with mental abuse in a Christian marriage" and "Do I stay or go when a Christian husband is on drugs and alcohol."
One of the recommended sites gave thoughtful answers to important life questions from an evangelical Christian perspective. The other hawked Bible books.