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Groups file FTC complaints against AOL
Published: 2006-08-16

SAN FRANCISCO--The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the World Privacy Forum filed separate legal complaints with the Federal Trade Commission this week claiming that America Online engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices when the company posted its users' search data online.

On Wednesday, the World Privacy Forum filed a 19-page brief criticizing AOL's release of three-months of search data--totaling about 20 million queries--to its Web site. While AOL hid users' information using random ID numbers, information contained in the actual searches allowed the New York Times to identify one woman and could likely lead to the names of hundreds of users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed its own complaint to the FTC earlier this week.

"Search terms can expose the most intimate details of a person's life--private information about your family problems, your medical history, your financial situation, your political and religious beliefs, your sexual preferences, and much more," EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said in a statement. "At the very least, AOL should notify every customer whose privacy has been jeopardized by the company's careless handling of this incredibly private information, and AOL should not store this kind of data in the future when it doesn't have to."

America Online is the latest company to be criticized for privacy lapses. Currently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups are suing telecommunications giant AT&T over its alleged cooperation with the National Security Agency to wiretap some of its customers. The Federal Communications Commission declined to investigate the NSA, citing its lack of access to classified and sensitive documents that would be central to the case.

Posted by: Robert Lemos
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