AOL’s Database of Good Intentions

The column intro spells it out this week:

To paraphrase an idiom a la John Battelle, "The road to hell is
paved with the database of intentions."

AOL has been taking it on the chin and issuing mea culpas for
releasing 20 million search records from about 660,000 of its users in the name
of research. You can’t identify the users, as they are listed by anonymous IDs,
but searches are our fingerprints. The New York Times traced search
queries back to a 62-year-old in Georgia, and Wired News identified a
14-year-old. It was an innocent misstep, according to Battelle, Search Engine
Watch, and other observers. Given the privacy implications, AOL recanted and
took down the data.

Yet copies of AOL’s database circulated in downloadable format (a
436 megabyte file, or 2 gigabytes when unzipped) and as online databases. In
those 2 gigs, there are quite a few lessons and reminders for marketers; below
is an abbreviated list. For the research for this column, I mostly used the AOL
Log Search at czern.homeip.net/aolsearch/ (thanks Erik Mednis for the link).

Read the full column at MediaPost.