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AOL Reviews Privacy Policy After Disclosing Search Data

Aug 22, 20063 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

AOL on Monday announced steps it is taking to prevent another security breach like the one in which subscriber search query results recently were posted online.

Also Monday, the company accepted the resignation of its chief technology officer. Maureen Govern “has decided to leave AOL effective immediately,” said Jon Miller, president of AOL, in an e-mail message to employees that was provided to the IDG News Service. Govern, who was named CTO in September 2005, oversaw the research division responsible for the data release. In addition, a researcher and a manager in the research area were fired, according to an AOL spokesman who declined to be named.

The Web portal and Internet service provider has come under criticism from Internet privacy watchdogs for disclosing data on about 20 million search queries made by 650,000 AOL subscribers between March 1 and May 31. AOL researchers posted the data online even though it was intended only for use by other AOL researchers. No personally identifiable information about subscribers was revealed. AOL has since removed the data from the Web.

In another e-mail to employees, Miller said an internal task force was being assembled to determine how long AOL should keep data, including search data, and to consider other improvements to the AOL privacy policy. The task force will be co-chaired by AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis and General Counsel Randy Boe.

Miller said AOL will also take the following steps:

  • Impose additional restrictions on access to databases of subscriber information, regardless of whether that data contains information identifying specific people.

  • Develop new systems to ensure that sensitive information is not included in research databases.

  • Train employees at all levels about the need for sensitivity to privacy issues.

The breach occurred “because some employees did not exercise good judgment or review their proposal with our privacy team,” Miller told employees.

Miller also announced that Govern’s predecessor, John McKinley, will return to the position of CTO. He was planning to leave the company at the end of the year.

AOL, in Dulles, Va., is a unit of Time Warner of New York City.

-Robert Mullins, IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)

Related AOL Links:

AOL CTO Resigns In Wake of Search Scandal

AOL Security Tools Raise Adware Concerns

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