AOL user identified from search records

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AOL user identified from search records

Data not as anonymous as company thought.

A user whose search records were released supposedly anonymously by AOL has been identified.

AOL released information on 20 million private search records earlier this week before removing the data and apologising for its actions.

The New York Times was able to trace an AOL member who appeared as user number 4417749 in the supposedly anonymous data.

The paper identified the individual as Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia through the terms she searched for on AOL.

"Those are my searches," she told the paper when it contacted her and read out some of the search terms.

Mrs Arnold said she was shocked that her search queries had been recorded and released to the public by AOL.

"My goodness, it’s my whole personal life," she said. "I had no idea somebody was looking over my shoulder."

AOL reinforced that it had not intended to release Arnold's data or anyone else's, and told the paper: "We apologise specifically to her. There is not a whole lot we can do."

Mrs Arnold plans to cancel her AOL subscription as a result of the data being released. "We all have a right to privacy. Nobody should have found this all out," she said.

Sites providing Web interfaces to the data, such as, have since appeared.

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