What do Rachael, Ulysses, and two Houston DJ's have in common?

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Search privacy?

Question: What does my sister Rachael have in common with Ulysses and a pair of Houston DJ's that I, alas, do not?

Answer: AOL Search.

I assume most readers will have heard about AOL releasing what 650,000 subscribers searched for over a three month period. Although the data was ostensibly "anonymized" just being able to correlate a users searches can lead to that user being identified, or at the very least a pretty clear picture of who and where they are.

Although AOL eventually pulled the data from their research.aol.com website, it lives on mirrored on many sites around the world.

I downloaded the data and this evening finally got around to looking through it (briefly). I decided to see how many people had searched for anything that led them here or to planet.cleverly.com.

AOL broke the data up into ten individual files each somewhere between 212 to 228 megabytes (uncompressed). Using standard Unix utilities I executed an grep -li cleverly.com * and was suprised to see that 9 out of 10 of the files matched!

Upon closer examination, however, people were searching for either rachael.cleverly.com (my sister's old website) or stevensandcleverly.com (Stevens & Cleverley, Houston DJ's on—the now defunct?—KRTS 97.5 FM). Nobody was searching for blog.cleverly.com, planet.cleverly.com or even my old michael.cleverly.com website.

So Rachael's more popular among the Internet masses than I am. Or at least people want to read her old college essays more than mine. Either way I'm OK with that. :-)

Come to think of it I've never actually read Ulysses and I don't think I ever wrote an essay analysing a poem in college. So no wonder nobody is looking for me...

So what kind of profile can we glean from Rachael's anonymous homework stalkers? Let's see...

#10,536,410

Our first mystery user, lets call her Alice, looks to be a student from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Alice went looking for Rachael's website on March 6, 2006 at 5pm. She appears to regularly need to use a search engine to search for websites that she could just go to directly if she knew how to use her browsers address bar. Oh, and type better.

#8,516,760

Our second user, lets call him Bob, appears to be a student at Texas State. He searched for Rachael's old website on March 20th at 11:43 pm. Some of his other search highlights:

#12,569,041

Our third user, lets call her Carol, was the busiest little searcher of the bunch. She performed 119 separate searches. Prime interested seem to revolve around:

#2,799,138

Let's pretend our final user is Dave. In addition to searching for Rachael's essays on poems he mainly seemed to be wanting information on different colleges. Perhaps a high school junior getting ready to start applying to colleges?


As for who these aspiring fans of Rachael really were, they probably weren't really Alice, Bob, Carol and Dave. They are just the prototypical example characters in discussions on cryptography.

—Michael A. Cleverly

Comments

katrina cleverly: [ mail | www | link ]

after recently marrying i decided to pop my married name into an internet search engine. it occured to me i had never done this with my maiden name which is cleverly. i knew there were a few out there but wasn't sure how many. do you know any of your family history. how long have they used the name? i believe ours was changed to cleverly 100-150 years ago. like to talk more. have relatives in salt lake. aunties maiden name was also cleverly. bye for now. katrina no longer cleverly

Sat, 30 Sep 2006, 19:51

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