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AOL Members Sue AOL for Search Data Release

A suit against Time Warner internet division AOL is seeking damages on behalf of all AOL members in the United States whose internet search query data was, without consent, released from January 1, 2004 until the present.

The suit, seeking class action status, was filed against AOL on Friday, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, writes CNET. The suit seeks at least $5,000 for every person of the 658,000 whose search data was exposed; it accuses AOL of Electronic Communications Privacy Act violations and fraudulent and deceptive business practices, among other claims.

The complaint (pdf) states that on July 31 AOL posted on its publicly accessible website a database containing roughly 20 million search queries entered over a three-month period. The database detailed the date and time the AOL member conducted each search, as well as any websites the member clicked on after AOL's search engine returned its results. No AOL user names were attached to the database, but the complaint says search terms contain enough personal information to identify AOL members.

Though AOL later pulled the database from its website, the database had already been downloaded, reposted and made searchable on other websites. Though AOL apologized for the disclosure, according to the complaint it has done nothing to remedy the situation. Plaintiffs allege the company has taken no steps to make secure similar information and has not stopped collecting such information from its members.

Two AOL employees were fired, however, and the chief technology officer resigned over the incident.

The lawsuit was filed by Berman DeValerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo, who represent three individual plaintiffs, along with the Law Office of Richard R. Wiebe and James K. Green, P.A.

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