If you had compiled search data for 650,000 of your customers over 20 million searches, what would you do with it? Well, if you are AOL, you will make it publically available, free of charge. While many are still bewildered by AOL's decision to do this, it may have been a simple (but large) mistake. They've already pulled the link to download the data, though many sites are already mirroring it. With AT&T in court for cooperating with the Government in providing data, AOL must have a big backbone to be able to be so bold with their collected data. Three days after an announcement that boosted PR by allowing non-AOL customers to use their services, they now potentially face millions of angry customers.
Should AOL be allowed to release this information? Because this is so early, it could still be just a very big mistake. That is no consolation to those who feel violated, of course.
Update: AOL has apologized today for releasing this information publicly, it was a mistake they said:
"This was a screw-up, and we're angry and upset about it. It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant."