Researchers Feeling Conflicted Over AOL Data
from the in-two-minds dept
The leak of a ton of search data at AOL has been nothing short of a mess, culminating Monday in the termination of some employees at the company. The privacy concerns overshadowed how interesting the data was, and AOL’s mistake in not stripping out personally identifiable information undid their original good intention: to give researchers a look at a large amount of search data, something that’s often difficult for them to get their hands on. Though AOL pulled the data, it was downloaded by plenty of people before it got yanked, and many search researchers have been examining it. However, feeling some ethical pangs, some can’t bring themselves to look at it. It’s nice to see these people have some ethical concerns, but as long as they’re using the information responsibly, it doesn’t seem like they have much to be worried about. However, as some researchers point out, the ongoing effect of the AOL gaffe will be to make search companies think twice about releasing any kind of data, even if they have anonymized it. That’s really not an ideal solution, as it limits the ability of people outside search companies to research and refine search technology. The answer is to release the data responsibly, taking users’ privacy into consideration. In the meantime, these researchers should probably just carry on with the data, since it’s last they’re likely to see for a while — just try to avoid fingering individual users with their search habits.