"This incident took place because some employees did not exercise good judgment or review their proposal with our privacy team," said CEO Jonathan Miller in an in-house email. "We are taking appropriate action with the employees who were responsible."
I haven't been following this issue and I'm not sure what the problem is, in general, with putting anonymous search terms up in a public forum. Back in the 20th century there was a cool Java applet that claimed to be a real-time ticker of all the search terms people were entering into AltaVista at any given time. It was pretty mesmerizing, and there was a brief vogue for trying to type in AltaVista searches really quickly and then try to catch them on the ticker. (Ah, life was simpler back then!)
The issue here was that apparently people with some skills could find out unique numbers for each searcher, and triangulate to try and get an actual identity. "At least two of the AOL users have been identified by name in press accounts," The New York Times says, "and people have speculated about the identities of others on various Web sites." Do some of your own searching of the AOL database at aolsearchdatabase.com.
Except for Abdur Chowdhury's technical gaffe, however, is there any problem with anonymously making search terms public? My inclination is that there's not, but maybe I'm just too enamored of Golden-age-of-the-internet catchphrases. Maybe I could be quickly cross-indexed as the only sucka out there who's suspiciously interested in horrible sports injuries, Joseph Hergesheimer, and the Van Allen Belts who's also trying to sell a good-condition Kenmore washing machine on Craigslist. (The thing's a beaut! Must go!) Then again, maybe there are others. I'm a one-in-a-million guy, and that means there are a thousand guys in China just like me.