America Online posted a file containing three months of anonymized search queries of 658,000 users and then pulled the data down on Monday following a public outcry.
The searches, conducted between March and May, accounted for 1/3 of one percent of the total searches conducted during that period, the Internet service provider said in a statement. Several blogs picked up on the incident, estimating that hundreds and perhaps thousands of people downloaded the data.
"Although there was no personally-identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this," AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said in the statement. "It was a mistake, and we apologize. We've launched an internal investigation into what happened, and we are taking steps to ensure that this type of thing never happens again."
The public has become more sensitive to privacy breaches following a number of high-profile cases in the past two years. In May, the Department of Veterans Affairs warned that a laptop and external hard drive had been stolen from an employee's home early that month. While the two devices were eventually recovered, they had contained a database with the personal details of nearly 26.5 million veterans. The University of Texas at Austin warned students and workers in April that 197,000 records containing personally identifiable information had been accessed by an online attacker.
The incidents and others in 2005 led the Bush Administration to mandate that federal agencies deploy better security to protect mobile devices with sensitive data.
Posted by: Robert Lemos