The Upside Of The AOL Data Leak: Government Realizes Data Retention Is Bad

from the silver-linings dept

It really was just a few months ago that our federal government was desperately trying to convince everyone that ISPs should be forced to retain all sorts of data on usage, long past any reasonable period for business purposes. Despite the fact that data retention rules are usually ridiculously expensive (increasing the price for end users) while making the important data harder to find, the government pulled out the “terrorism” card as a reason it was needed. However, with the embarrassing leak of AOL user data, suddenly our politicians are up in arms… over the exact opposite thing. Yes, that’s right, now there’s talk that we should pass laws to ban the retention of data like this. It’s not a complete flip flop, of course. It’s something of a partisan issue. The bill in question was introduced months ago, with the hope of preventing data retention laws that weaken everyone’s privacy. The AOL flap has simply given new life to the supporters of this bill. However, it will be interesting to see if the AOL leak and the publicity it’s generated will actually get people to pay attention to some of the reasons why forced data retention is a very bad idea.

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Comments on “The Upside Of The AOL Data Leak: Government Realizes Data Retention Is Bad”

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Michael says:

Re: the solution..

It is really not the peoples fault it is a horrible service but it is given free to so many people that do not do the research on how bad the company treats people. Look everyone makes mistakes, even though AOL is a pretty big mistake, I don’t think we should have to pay for it after we cancelled. And yes I unfortunately had an AOL account at one time.

Andrew Strasser says:

Re: the solution..

Having won a lawsuit against em when I was 16 for not being able to give me my unlimited internet like they sold me. I must say I have avidly hated this company for along time for many reasons. It’s a large organization and will bounce back, but at least the politicians see that it’s really not a joke. We’re dealing with real life problems that they need to take a little more seriously than changing the e-mail page for the govt. officials from listing their e-mail addresses to making it a form you have to send each one. Of course copy and paste still work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bet some politicians searches were public...

Search Results for user G2theWb:

how to dominate world

new world order

Dora explorer

Locate Isreal and middle eats^h^h^h^h east

Search Results for JoeCongressman1234

Little boys playing

bribes and fines

under the table

washington DC escort tranny

“Congressman this is GW, we need to make a law forcing everyone to not save search datas from the internets.”

“Sure GW, the internets are not safe unless we are controlling every detail. Internets will be attacking if were not careful, we need to force them to destroy it.”

Data Protection Act says:

Perhaps what you need is something like the Data Protection Act we have in the UK. Revealing personally identifiable information about someone to the general public is a criminal offence. It doesn’t apply to the police/secret service etc but this kind of public data release that clearly has phone numbers, postal addresses etc in it would have landed AOL in court in the UK. It is actually illegal in the EU to transfer personally idetifiable data to the US, even to the US government because you do not have any data protection type laws. That’s why an EU court recently decided that the info airlines were giving to the US about their passengers was illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah, we should focus on data retention of ISP’s that release personal information yet do nothing about serious data loss.

What really has been done to the VA for its data loss? What has been done to Wells Fargo? What, the credit card clearinghouse that lost millions of records paid fines of less than a dollar per consumer.

Politicians and the media focus on AOL yet really do nothing about serious privacy loss. Sure, don’t use AOL, but what about your bank, your credit cards, your

insurance and health information.

Chris says:

Welcome to Earth

If you’ve haven’t noticed by now the internet is not secure, and more than likely won’t ever be. For the majority of the time you’re online you’re constantly being bombarded by junk mail, though you’ve never given your e-mail to anyone with malicious intent. The simple fact you use a @hotmail, @charter, @ it’s just a matter of time before some random address generator gets a hit. Popups, spyware, adware, worms, viruses, trojans, packet sniffers, choose your poison oods are sooner or later you’ll be the victim. However, the extent of which you’ll be affected is usualy crap in your inbox, or your computer performance slows down (most people never notice though). So long as huge corporations hire droves of high school grads to offer tech support, who use their work computer like they do at home contaiminanting them beyond belief, you’re at risk. Not to mention all the outsourced info to east (India etc..) who’s security very well might be lacking as oversea endevors tend to favor the cheepest path possible. Point is companies like AOL, Comcast, Charter, whoever, who have massive storage banks managed by so many automated systems and thousands of indiviudals, will eventualy run into a security problem if someone’s so determined to create one. They just don’t allocate enough resources to manage things like this.

XCetron says:

True, but spam mails dont usually create too much trouble. Viruses on the other hand can cause some troubles but nothing a quick format couldnt solve. I backup all my data offlline and everytime the net computer gets infected or something I can just wipe it out and reinstall stuff, the process takes approximately 24 minutes.

This is the information age, there are information everywhere, even the ones you dont want to go around. The safest place to store data is a database not connected to anything else.

Dom says:

Search the AOL logs :)

Some guy has written a search script for the AOL logs, so if you want to see the weird stuff people are looking for on AOL, go here:

I suggest searching for something like “affair”:

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 1

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 3

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 4

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 5

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 9

7037000 how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you 2006-04-03 11

Andrew Strasser says:


PeoplePC has the same amount of access numbers in every city using not just AOL’s access numbers , but also their own. It’s less expensive and comes without all the mal/spyware bundled into AOL.

You’re doing it to yourself and to anyone who has anything to say to me come say that shit to my face you lil anonomous punk piece of shit.

Fox McCloud (user link) says:

Now you're smiling?

In response to #6…

AOL has made MANY “fuck ups” that made me smile a lot more than this. I’d have to say the most obvious one was then all the “cancel the account” calls went public on the net, not the least of which was Mr. Vincent Ferrarri (do a google or youtube search if you haven’t heard the phone call or seen any of his interviews). It always seemes funny to me that Ferrarri – a cell phone salesman who actually has much the same job of trying to sell people more than they need – got aggrivated and adjitated with an AOL “customer card” rep. Then, there’s the entire slew of documents that just magically got “leaked” from within AOL after his phone call. Things like, for example, their official internal “Customer Retention Manual” that basically tells them exactly how to get you to keep your AOL service (which apparently is as important as selling new service, but more difficult. Go figure.) There’s also the emails from the VP for whatever-department-those-trolls-work-in which show that even he is really, really worried about the phone call. And all of that is from one small incident when one guy decided to grab a tape recorder before he called up the devil – I mean AOL – to cancel his account.

I’m just saying that if this is the first AOL PR disaster you’ve seen that makes you smile, you need to read around a bit more (even dig through some older entries here on Techdirt, perhaps). I think when you’re done reading, you’ll be laughing your ass off, simply because it’s amazing a company can mess up this much and still be in business.

Peter says:

I think there is some confusion in these comments about what is at stake. This is not about Google saving searches. They do that to help create better search results and to calculate trends and even aim ads. This issue was about these ISPs stroing personal data, sensitive data and financial data. The issue is less about data protection and more about when (or whether) it is ok to dump old and irrelevant data.

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