Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Search Engine Spammers Say Big Thank You to AOL

AOL, in an apparently innocent release of search history information to the 'research community' has released 2GB of searches over a recent 3 month period.

They thought they didn't release personally identifiable information because they didn't include user information, however in reality it is possible to identify many AOL users simply by their search history. The files released link each search together by a randomly assigned user ID number.

Since many people do 'ego searches', that is, searching for their own name, address, etc., this alone can identify users. Linked with location searches, hobby searches, etc., many users can be identified by those looking with almost guaranteed accuracy.

What about those searching for pornography, new jobs, dating sites, illegal drugs, and on and on? Over 650,000 users have had their online privacy violated.

Of course AOL apologized, and removed the link to the data quickly, but the damage has been done.

Search Engine spammers will use this information to build massive automated sites on the 'long tail' of searches; optimizing pages for thousands of rarely searched terms that are easily targeted and will each bring a trickle of affiliate sales or adsense revenue.

Others will use the information for honest keyword research. This Internet marketer was lucky enough to grab a copy from a mirror site last night.

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