AOL's release of search data from 500,000 users was, without a doubt, a serious gaffe. But it really appeared to be the result of a mistake (and a healthy dose of ineptitude) driven by good intentions -- trying to give search researchers a large chunk of data to work with. Heads rolled, and the attention further brought the issue of online privacy into the light, and, all things considered, the information released wasn't all that harmful to individual users. This isn't to say that AOL's release of the data was acceptable, but rather to illustrate that the company has likely learned its lesson -- but when did that ever stop class-action lawyers from getting involved? A firm has now filed suit against AOL for the breach, seeking $1000 per user in damages, or $5000 if they live in California. What's worse is that it also seeks to block AOL from storing search data altogether -- a move that might preclude any further leaks, but would certainly prevent any useful application or new feature based on studying or utilizing past search info. This is absolutely silly. Class-action lawsuits typically only benefit the lawyers, who always somehow manage to negotiate themselves large fees in the inevitable settlement, but their greed shouldn't be coupled with measures that serve to hurt the rest of a company's customers -- in this case, search engine users. At best, this suit will just line the lawyers' pockets; at worst, it will severely hamper innovation in the search engine space. After all, if AOL will settle, expect teeming hordes of vultures to turn their attention to the likes of Google and Yahoo next. In any case, if users don't want companies storing this type of data, there are other ways to demand it rather than by resorting to a class-action lawsuit. But somehow, it's hard to believe that anything other than money is driving this lawsuit.
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