GRACE HURLEY Graphic Design & Art Direction
Graphic Design & Art Direction
Role: Individual, University
Student, Digital
AOL’s data leak reveals a rare glimpse into the private lives of AOL's users, exposing millions of search queries, from the mundane to the illicit and bizarre.

In 2006, AOL’s research department accidentally released a compressed text file containing 20 million keyword searches, by over 650,000 users, from a three-month period. The file was quickly removed by the Internet service provider, however, the information was mirrored and spread throughout the Web.
        The search records don’t include users’ names, but each search is tagged with a number that’s tied to a specific AOL account. User 2178 searches for “foods to avoid when breastfeeding”. User 3482401 seeks guidance on “calorie counting”. User 3483689 searches for the songs “Time After Time” and “Wind Beneath My Wings”. User 3505202 asks about “depression and medical leave”. User 7268042 types “fear that spouse contemplating cheating”. These searches are a catalogue of intentions, curiosities, anxieties and quotidian questions that can paint an intimate picture of the user.

The search histories of three AOL users were randomly selected to determine whether you really are what you search for. In viewing the search history, it was possible to conceive a profile for each of the users. This data was republished, in chronological order, onto Facebook's interface, under a fictitious profile.
        This insight, tinged with voyeurism, is strangely disturbing given the private nature of the content, never meant for public viewing. If you really are what you search, is an individual's public persona a lie? This proposition is, therefore, challenging the notion of, "how well do you really know someone?".

For your reading pleasure, the following are a series of excerpts compiled from the AOL search records with each user's search queries included in chronological order.
Based on the number of local searches, AOL user 1515830 appears to be a resident of Ohio's Mahoning County. User 1515830 was trying to find the number of calories in chai tea and bananas, but then the searches took a darker turn:
chai tea calories
calories in bananas
aftermath of incest
how to tell your family you're a victim of incest
pottery barn
surgical help for depression
oakland raiders comforter set
can you adopt after a suicide attempt
who is not allowed to adopt
i hate men
medication to enhance female desire
jobs in denver colorado
teaching positions in denver colorado
how long will the swelling last after my tummy tuck
divorce laws in ohio
free remote keyloggers
baked macaroni and cheese with sour cream
how to deal with anger
teaching jobs with the denver school system
marriage counseling tips
anti psychotic drugs

Searches performed by one AOL user living near Charlton, Mass., appear to show how one man went through the process of divorce, finding an apartment, and fighting for custody of his children. This is what AOL user 4331025 typed:
charlton ma apartments
gourmet condiments
cheer up plaques
mass custody definitions
kids health
wastewater jobs mass
visitation schedule
kids gym places in worcester
mass wastewater certification exam forums
counter surveilance products
sample visitation schedules
how are fat girlfriends
salem probate court decisions
revenge for a cheating spouse
civil war a fathers guide to wining custody
mass licensed daycare providers
fish chowder recipes
win your child custody war books for sale
martindale hubbell
first date dos and donts
how to satisfy a woman
penis enlargement
how to get revenge on exwife
how to do a background check with a liscense number

Many AOL users performed the occasional search for porn. But a few, like user 336865, seemed to look for nothing but. Here are some not-always-savoury searches by user 336865:
sexy pregnant ladies naked
sexy feet
child rape stories
preteen sex stories
illegal child porn
incest stories
10 year old nude pics
preteen nude models
illegel anime porn
Whoever wrote that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned had clearly never experienced the Internet. User 2708's search queries suggest that she signed up her ex-boyfriend for Columbia House CDs, searched articles on "gay life," and Christian literature while shopping for women's Harley Davidson boots. User 2708's ex apparently lives in New Hampshire:
revenge tactics
the woman's book of revenge
dirty tricks for chicks
voice changer
how to humiliate someone
bill me pay later for cd's
scams to play on people
how to get revenge on an old lover
i hate my ex boyfriend
how to really make someone hurt for the pain they caused to someone else
columbia house
advice from women who have seeked revenge on old lovers
how to say goodbye hurtfully
how to report child neglect in the state of new hampshire
free articles on gay life that can be mailed to me
free christian things
free gay magazines
free angry stuff to send to an ex lover
how to permanently delete information from your hard drive
women's harley davidson boots
the worst thing to send someone via email
thong dancewear
what can i do to an old lover for revenge
mean revenge tactics
death records in hampstead new hampshire

Learning to be single is a common theme among users hoping to find relationship advice through AOL search. AOL user 100906 appears to live in Cincinnati and is wrestling with serious personal and career issues at the same time:
cinncinati bell iwireless
addicted to love
women who love to much
learning to be single
should you call your ex
when your ex goes out of his way to run into u
slim upper thighs
inches a weigh
prophet mohamed life teaching
missed period or light spotting
birthcontrol for morning after pill
l&n federal credit union
hes just not that into u
i dont have a career
should i get back with my divorced husband
when you have less property than you u bought
what talking in tounges really means
questions about the bible
do i quailfy for food stamps in kentucky

Revenge is a common theme, though of course, it's impossible to guess whether an AOL user has criminal intent or is in the middle of writing a true-crime novel. In the case of AOL user 17556639, the jury's still out:
how to kill your wife
pictures of dead people
photo of dead people
car crash photo