Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against AOL Over Search Data Release

TechCrunch reports in

Suit filed against AOL; seeks to block search history storage
that a class
action lawsuit has been filed against AOL seeking $1,000 in damages for each
person whose search records were
released last
month.

The release involved 658,000 individuals, so that’s potentially a $658
million bill, if the case succeeds. It’s even more if some of those people are
California-based, since the case seeks $4,000 per California individual,
according to TechCrunch.

Of course, not all of these people actually can be identified. To date,
exactly one person was positively identified. The New York Times guessed at her
identity, and she herself
confirmed it.
No doubt, others can also be determined, but not every one of the people
involved will be. So when the suit says:

The search queries themselves contain information that identify AOL members
who made each search.

That’s only correct for a subset of the total users. Similarly, the lawsuit
states:

The Member Search Data holds sensitive financial information about the AOL
members, including but not limited to names, street addresses, phone numbers,
credit card number, social security numbers, financial account numbers,
passwords and usernames.

True, in some cases. Not all of them. In fact, probably not true for the
majority of them.

It will be interesting to see if the court case ultimately finds that
everyone should receive payment, given the potential harm they suffered, or if
it will only pay to those who prove in some way they actually were personally
identifiable or had personal information released in some way because of AOL’s
actions. Perhaps there will be a compromise between the two, if the case
succeeds.

You’ll find the text of the lawsuit
here. Three
AOL users are named, though no evidence I see in the suit suggests that any of
them were actually personally identified in some way by the release. That might
come in future filings or existing filings also submitted to the court, of
course. A release about the suit from the law firm filing it is
here. The
Associated Press also has coverage in

3 AOL Subscribers Sue Over Data Release
.

Aside from cash payouts, the case also wants AOL to enforce a license
prohibiting commercial and non-research user of the data, plus wants the
material removed from internet search engines (which means, really, getting it
off the internet itself). It also seeks to prevent AOL from storing any type of
web search data and to destroy any already in its possession.

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