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AOL sued by members over data release

Three users seeking compensation

Three people have sued AOL over the company's controversial release of member search-engine records, in what their lawyers are billing as the first such lawsuit seeking national class-action status.

The three AOL members charge the Time Warner subsidiary with, among other things, privacy violation, false advertising and unjust enrichment.

Two unnamed AOL members residing in California and Kasadore Ramkissoon, who lives in New York, filed their lawsuit on Friday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuit seeks monetary relief for all affected AOL members in the US whose search data was disclosed without consent from 1 January 2004 until the present.

The plaintiffs also ask the court to instruct AOL not to store or maintain users' web search records, and to destroy the web search records it currently has.

The lawsuit stems from AOL's decision to post on its research website about 20 million search records from about 658,000 of its members, covering the three-month period between March and May.

AOL didn't disclose the names of the members, but it grouped each member's records with a unique number. This made it possible to see what each individual searched for. The data included search queries, as well as websites the members clicked on to.

When the issue became a privacy scandal in August, AOL apologised and pulled the data from the site, but by then the data set had been downloaded multiple times and the records remain available online.

The records contain sensitive information such as credit card, telephone and Social Security numbers, birth dates, full names and addresses. The New York Times tracked down one of the affected members and, with her permission, interviewed and identified her.

The law firm Berman DeValerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo represents the plaintiffs. A copy of the complaint is posted on the law firm's website.

AOL declined to provide comment for this story.


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