by CIO Staff

AOL Sued by 3 Subscribers Over Search-Record Disclosure

Sep 26, 20063 mins

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AOL, Time Warner’s Internet division, on Friday was sued under privacy laws by three of its subscribers whose Web search records were recently made public online by the Internet service provider (ISP), in an attempt to make AOL cease retaining such information, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Two unnamed Californians and Kasadore Ramkissoon of Staten Island, N.Y., filed the suit–which seeks class-action status–last week in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., according to the Journal.  They’re suing under the Electronics Communications Privacy Act and a number of California laws meant to protect consumers, according to the Journal.  The amount of damages they’re seeking is unknown, the Journal reports.

The suit is thought to be the first in response to AOL’s massive disclosure of some 650,000 of its subscribers’ searches performed between March and May of this year, according to the Journal.  AOL was immediately blasted for allowing the records to be posted, and it removed them soon after but not before the information could be cached and circulated over the Web.

AOL has already offered up a public apology to all of those potential affected, and it said a researcher had not obtained the proper approval before making the records available on the Web, according to the Journal.  That researcher and another involved employee have since been terminated, and the firm’s chief technology officer at the time, Maureen Govern, resigned in response to the incident.  AOL also promised to hire a chief privacy officer, the Journal reports.

John Dominguez, an attorney who filed the suit against AOL, said he wants the company to stop holding onto such subscriber records as search histories, and get rid of the records it is currently storing, according to the Journal.

AOL retains some data related to its subscribers for a month, and it holds onto search records for even longer in some cases, the Journal reports.

Both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the World Privacy Forum, two privacy-protections groups, have filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission against AOL in relation to its release of search records.

AOL did not provide the Journal with a comment on the suit.

In related news, last week U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes Congress should require all ISPs to retain customer information—including search records—for longer periods of time for assistance in child pornography investigations.

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