Privacy group files FTC complaint against AOL

A privacy group files a Federal Trade Commission complaint against AOL for its release of member search records.

The World Privacy Forum has filed a U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint against AOL, saying the company violated its own privacy policy by releasing the search records from hundreds of thousands of its members.

The World Privacy Forum, a privacy advocacy group, asked the FTC to investigate AOL's release of search records this year, to fine AOL a "substantial" amount of money and to order AOL to provide free credit counseling to any members who had their personal data exposed in AOL's release of the search records.

The World Privacy Forum's complaint, filed Wednesday, came two days after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a privacy and civil liberties advocacy group, filed a similar complaint with the FTC.

AOL's release of search queries is "in violation of consumer expectations for the maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information," the World Privacy Forum said in its complaint.

An AOL spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment Thursday. Earlier in the week, AOL declined to comment on the EFF complaint, but said AOL can't notify the affected users because there is no way for it to identify the accounts involved.

The EFF and World Privacy Forum complaints came after the disclosure last week that AOL had made available on its AOL Research Web site about 20 million search records from about 658,000 of its members. AOL didn't disclose the members' names, but it categorized each person's records with a unique number, making it possible to see what each individual searched for.

AOL acknowledged the release was a lapse in judgement and removed the data file from its Web site, but many Web sites published the records. Some of the records included credit card, telephone and Social Security numbers, as well as birth dates, full names and addresses.

AOL's release of the search records "comprise a pattern of personal data activities contravening the AOL privacy policy," the World Privacy Forum said in its complaint.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AOLEFFElectronic Frontier FoundationFederal Trade CommissionFTC

Show Comments