Still More on the AOL Database

I promised more fun. First, thanks to Erik Mednis, here’s a link to some notable profiles: www.aolpsycho.com.

And now, even more

Much of the database reminds me of the Woody Allen movie,
“Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask,” with the game
show parody, “What’s My Perversion?” Keep scrolling through someone’s queries,
and more often than not it seems like you’ll find something they wouldn’t have
liked making public.

People really love
their babies.
A mother of twins repeatedly searched for “cutest baby in the
world contest”. You could follow the twins’ development through her searches,
though it wasn’t pretty. One of her babies hated rolling over, had trouble
teething, hated being on his tummy, had night terrors, and possibly had a
run-in with a Black Widow spider.

Personalized search?
Not so fast.
A fun game to play with the results is guessing if there are
multiple searchers or just one. Of course, it’s impossible to know for certain
without asking the searcher, but that just makes it more entertaining, since
you have to admit that in the end, you never really know who’s searching. Given
how common this is, at least on AOL, that could burst the personalization
bubble, and at least points out a key problem with it all. The engines are
already developing workarounds. For instance, Search Engine Journal reported
last year on a patent Google filed that could conceivably identify users by
abstract methods, such as their unique patterns for how they move the mouse.

The
     engines don’t always know best.
Consider the user searching for “search
     engine momma.” The results included sponsored listings that would help the
     user find his or her mother or meet single mothers. He was just looking
     for the metsasearch engine mamma.com.

 

There are some
searches that may make you question the liberties we have.
Three users
searched for “how to build a bomb.” Do these people need to be reported to
authorities? Let’s work backwards. Say a mail bomb goes off that wounds or
kills a relative of an elected official, and it turns out the perpetrator had
entered that very query in a search engine, which pointed to a site with
blueprints for that exact bomb. Does the search engine hold any culpability by
not reporting this? Perhaps you’ve developed the sureness of political,
ethical, moral, or religious views that make these questions a cinch to answer,
but regardless of how you interpret the First Amendment or how much power
you’ll allow federal authorities to assume in order to protect their citizens,
courts and lawmakers will be debating questions such as these for many, many
years to come.

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