By now you’ve no doubt heard that AOL, hoping the data would be of help to academic researchers, recently released a vast collection of search strings entered by hundreds of thousands of users over the course of several months. The company soon made the data inaccessible again—but not before several nimble-fingererd surfers captured and republished it.
AOL issued an apology for the release, and tried to reassure its subscribers that the queries were identified only by number and not by the searchers’ real names. In other words, the company said, it wouldn’t be possible to match an actual person—perhaps even someone you know—to an apparent interest in, say, “dirty tricks for chicks,” “how to say goodbye hurtfully,” or “free angry stuff to send to an ex lover.” (Thanks to Declan McCullagh and User 2708 for those.)
But as reported yesterday in The New York Times, Thelma “4417749″ Arnold might beg to differ. Anyone who read the paper now knows that Ms. Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Georgia, is the owner of a “dog that urinates on everything.”
Not surprisingly, given the voyeuristic potential of the material and the points begging to be made about security issues, several sites—including AOLSearchLogs.com and AOL Log Search—have posted the data behind browser front ends that make it easily searchable.
Which is where the SMITH-iness of all this comes in. Look up the search trail of User 711391 on AOL Log Search, and a sadly strange, almost surreal personal narrative emerges:
“cannot sleep with snoring husband … god will fulfill your hearts desires … online friendships can be very special … people are not always how they seem over the internet … gay churches in houston tx … who is crystal bernard romantically linked with … is crystal bernard bisexual … men need encouragement … how many online romances lead to sex … how many online romances lead to sex in person … the bible says be kind to one another … i cant stand dr. phil or his wife … is george clooney gay … how can i be a good example to an unsaved friend … farting preacher … who’s the hottest porn star … devotions for women … hillary swanke nude … best nude scenes of 1999 … how to take your body measurements … jake gyllenhaal is hot … bleached pubes … oprah gained weight lately … star jones hubby is a flaming homosexual … how to make a good first impression … accepting your body … why do i weigh so much though i am in shape … the lord’s table bible study … how can i tell if spouse is spying on me while i’m online … tempted to have an affair … extra maritial affairs are not the answer … staying calm while meeting an online friend … guilt cheating spouses feel … bryce howard nude … what the bible says about worry … female pirate costumes … symptoms of bladder infection … god will show you future events … symptoms of herpes of the tongue … i don’t want my ex back … why do christian men cheat … don’t contact an ex if you want to get over them … christian men that feel guilty about cheating on their wives … if you are upset can it cause bad dreams … and after you have suffered a little while god will make you stronger than ever … kelly ripa is so annoying … how to forgive yourself … how to recover from internet affairs … denise richards is a bitch … reason for constant bad dreams … having an affair is a waste of time … how to make a man want you …”