AOL takes action after user info leaked

By Jeremy Nalan

DeKALB | With the release of millions of individuals’ private search queries, AOL users may have had their personal information compromised.

Over 20 million search records containing information on the search habits of 650,000 AOL customers were released Aug. 7.

AOL removed the material and apologized for their mistake, but not before the material was downloaded and posted on other publicly-accessible sites.

This made it possible for some AOL users to be clearly identified by their search queries. Customers are inquiring how to react to this incident.

Some may opt to switch Internet service providers, but there are no assurances that other companies are any safer.

“The more data that is collected, the more cases there are going to be of these unauthorized releases of information,” said associate accountancy professor William Cummings.

Most releases are accidental, but if they are willingly released, those who allowed it should be prosecuted, Cummings said.

Privacy is emerging as a significant issue on the Web. Some Internet companies are releasing unauthorized material while others are selling users’ information.

A new Illinois law established this year provides users with a bit more knowledge on how their information is kept.

“Beginning with the first of this year in Illinois, a legislation was passed that made organizations notify users if their information is made public,” said Walter Czerniak, associate vice president of NIU’s Information Technology Services.

This requires all large organizations, like NIU, to inform users if their personal information is hacked into or discharged.

Some NIU students feel Internet service providers do a decent job protecting their confidential information.

“I feel safe because there is usually protection on there and it’s my choice to go on certain sites,” said freshman nursing major Angela Larkin.

Although information on the Internet is corrupted from time to time, criminals also steal personal information from sources outside the Internet. Only about 10 percent of unauthorized data being released is related to the Internet.

One of the most common places information is obtained from, believe it or not, is the trash, Czerniak said.