I would be remiss if I didn’t comment (along with the rest of universe) on AOL’s apparently accidental release of 20 million+ searches by 500,000 AOL users. Markus over at The Paradigm Shift has some horrifying data on homicidal and suicidal intentions mixed in with all the research and buying intentions:

This is the very data that google won a legal battle to keep from the government. What is going to happen to the search industry now? What are peoples privacy rights? If people are using AOL to search for ways of killing their spouse what should be done about it?

After reading AOL’s press release, it seems that they are just as horrified as everyone else. What’s clear is that information submitted to a search engine is as sensitive as the information given to lawyers and priests. In the case of lawyers, there are laws that protect the confedentiality of the information. In the case of priests, there are “higher” laws. But the law governing search data, online clickstreams, etc. is in its infancy — no, it hasn’t even been conceived yet.

Clearly, our societal and legal infrastructure is not prepared to deal with the human mirror of the Internet.

We need public debates. We need Congressional hearings. And, unfortunately, we probably need legislation.

I’m inclined to say that everyone who has posted copies of the data after it was taken down is acting in a socially irresponsible manner — but I know the complexity of the situation far exceeds gut feelings.

Here’s the bottom line: what’s inside our minds is no longer private (or a lot less private). Nothing we do on the Internet is private. And there is a not insignificant risk that if we don’t come to terms with this as a society, there will be many unintended consequences — and it won’t be pretty.