I realize this story has been out almost a week, but after thinking about the issues at hand a bit, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
Before I begin, though, if you haven’t already done so, you might want to take a look at the great blog entries made by Kent Lewis at the SES meetings in San Jose. Thanks a lot, Kent!
In case you hadn’t heard, or your brain is like mine and tends to dump data after a few days of knocking around in the dark expanse of my brain, AOL posted a lot of search info from about 650,000 users a couple of weeks ago and, before they could pull the data off the site, others had copied it onto other websites, and it became a news item. According to AOL, the error came as part of an “outreach” to academics, although not a lot of details were given.
So again we have the issue of privacy online called to our attention. This is an issue that is not going to go away and it’s one that is difficult to come to an absolute, definitive opinion about for a lot of folks (including me). On the one hand, it would of course be optimal if we could be certain that personal information or search inquiry data or the news that I bought a pink leather coat for my dog would never be revealed to anyone, anywhere … but is that a realistic expectation? In the case of the pink leather coat, I hope so. Bottom line is I think we have the right to expect as much protection as possible of our personal data from being released to anyone other than those we have said it’s OK to have it, but we have to realize that when you enter the http world, there’s a downside to instant communication and access to an incredible universe of knowledge, and part of that downside is a risk that what you do and what you share with others online could become public.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t rail against those who release private info when they said they wouldn’t – whether it’s by accident or even by subpeona – but we also have to accept that there is always a price to pay for technological wonders and it’s not always in dollars and cents. This post is my 2 cents worth … release it at will!