Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The End Of Privacy

The biggest story of the day that doesn't concern Iraq, Israel or the countries around them is AOL's blunder of releasing to the public the personal searches of 650,000 of its users.

The searches quoted in the article linked to above read like perverse, private poetry. Even the tamer lists of search terms seem to reveal so much about the "anonymous" users. Anyone so confused about the privacy issues at stake in the whole Government vs. Google case should think about what their own seraches reveal. I've often heard people say, "If I'm not doing anything illegal, then why should I care if the government taps-my-phone/looks-at-my-internet-searches." But do you really want to reveal things like illnesses, legal battles and other personal traumas to total strangers? Strangers that may be able to identify who you are and where you live?

It didn't take The New York Times much sleuthing to find Thelma Arnold.

AOL took its search database down, but not before some enterprising computer geeks mirrored the site. If you've used AOL's search... well, lets just hope you didn't look up your social security number. Or your own name. Or both.

Out of curiousity, I wondered what kind of people were looking for "Monmouth County, NJ," the county where I grew up. Were there perverts planning to move to my town?

I found that someone searched for "Monmouth Mall, Eatontown, NJ." My mall. So I looked up his or her ID number to see what else they looked up.

I was shocked.

yikes. it got worse.

rape 2006-05-20 23:33:59
hogtied 2006-05-20 23:31:51
fuckaroo 2006-05-20 23:11:06
fuckaroo 2006-05-20 23:11:06
fuckaroo 2006-05-20 23:11:06 2006-05-20 20:14:40 2006-05-20 20:14:33 2006-05-20 20:07:28 2006-05-20 20:05:47 2006-05-20 11:26:21 2006-05-20 11:26:21 2006-05-20 11:26:06
And right beneath those search entries:
A store in the monmouth mall!!!! Whoever this bastard is, they look up sick porn and then buy candles!!! But only after watching Sesame Street and checking their bank balance online!!!!

All this time, I thought the people I saw wandering Monmouth Mall were just normal, god-fearing Americans.

Innocent childhood, shattered!

I wonder what I've revealed about myself through my internet searches. Later tonight, stay tuned for a full accounting of the words I've typed into google. Uncensored.

[actually, when I wrote the above paragraph, I figured I had nothing to hide... however, looking through my searches, as funny as some of them are... i've decided they give a bit too much away. sorry to disappoint.]

[However, I will say that, reading my searches, you would find the first girl I ever had a crush on, multiple restaurants, lots of celebrities and, most humorously: "william hung like a virgin madonna". No, I don't remember searching for that.]

But back to the point. We don't have to use the internet. If we wanted to, we could go to a library, do our searches the old fashioned way. And we don't need to join MySpace or Facebook and put up detailed profiles of ourselves where everyone can see them. But regardless, many of us do these things. They enrich our lives... but also put us at risk. The risks of sites like MySpace have been made clear, time and time again by the media. But using something as innocuous as a search engine doesn't often enter our minds as a potential breach of our privacy. Clearly, it should. As long as companies continue to compile and store our online activities (amazon, ebay, and other sites store user data as well), our privacy is at risk. And with our government becoming increasingly intolerant of barriers to accessing citizen's private data, we get ever closer to the "Big Brother" that Orwell so terrifyingly detailed in his work of fiction. AOL's database is clearly not the last breach of privacy that will exist in the online world. And the fact that the "Big Brother" in this case is not only the government but every shmuck with a computer makes the breach even more terrifying. It's bad enough to think the government is watching you... far scarier to know that it could be anybody.

1 comment:

Hot Mama said...

Excellent post! Now I really feel vulnerable as I revisit some of my searches. I wonder if that possible "sicko" ever got a job at Yankee Candle. You can bet I'll be watching everyone at the Mall!

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