AOL sued over Web search data release

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills

As expected, AOL has been sued over its online release of data on the Internet searches of more than 650,000 members in late July. A lawsuit seeking class action status was filed against AOL on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuit (click here for PDF) accuses AOL of violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and of fraudulent and deceptive business practices, among other claims, and seeks at least $5,000 for every person whose search data was exposed.

No AOL user names were attached to the database, but the lawsuit alleges that the search terms contain enough personal information to identify the searchers. Although AOL pulled the data, it continues to remain accessible on other Web sites that reposted it, according to the lawsuit.

An AOL spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

AOL had put the roughly 20 million search queries on one of its research-related Web sites but pulled it and apologized after the matter came to light. Two AOL employees were fired and the chief technology officer resigned over the incident.

The release of the data prompted widespread criticism from privacy advocates and Congress. In addition, AOL faces .