Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Silver Lining

So AOL gets caught releasing the search records of 658,000 people that can easily be reconciled with actual AOL subscribers.

In short, an online advertising company - what else is America Online today? - dumps all this personal information about its users.

So who does the New York Times go to for comment? Could it be a certain online-advertising shaman named ... John Battelle?

You know, that guy who started a company that's bankrolled by the ... New York Times?

John Battelle, the author of the 2005 book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture,” said AOL'’s misstep, while unfortunate, could have a silver lining if people began to understand just what was at stake. In his book, he says search engines are mining the priceless "“database of intentions"” formed by the world’s search requests.

"It'’s only by these kinds of screw-ups and unintended behind-the-curtain views that we can push this dialogue along,"” Mr. Battelle said. "As unhappy as I am to see this data on people leaked, I'’m heartened that we will have this conversation as a culture, which is long overdue."”

The same young Mr. Battelle who saw such a silver lining to the craptacular collapse of a business that employed so many of his peers ("Maybe I'll go look for the next big thing") is now happy to see 20 million search queries go naked before the public.

So we can "push this dialogue along" only by exposing every typed thought of 62-year-old Georgia widow Thelma Arnold?

Ms. Arnold seems less impressed with this new dialogue. She is canceling her AOL account.

I would hope she is also investigating the "anonymizer" websites that hide the human from the awful machine Mr. Battelle spends his whole life promoting.


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