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August 9, 2006

AOL searcher #4417749 revealed

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:33 AM

The New York Times took the list of user searches that AOL briefly made public this week and tracked down one person based on their search terms.

Searcher #4417749 is Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow in Lilburn, Ga., who had researched topics like "numb fingers" and "dog that urinates on everything."

The mini-investigation shows how easy it could be to pin down someone's identity based on their searches. It might give the other 600,000 or so users whose searches were posted something to be alarmed about. AOL has taken down the data, but other sites have archived the data and made them available online.

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