Security researchers at Spi Dynamics have demonstrated a technique that exposes the search queries and web pages that a user has visited.
Websites could use the technique to check whether a user has researched its products through search engines.
An insurance provider, for instance, could verify whether a client applying for life insurance has ordered cigarettes online. It could also allow an online retailer to check whether users have been shopping with competing stores.
"You can basically determine how loyal a customer I am and offer me a price break," Billy Hoffman, a lead security researcher with Spi Dynamics, told vnunet.com.
The 439MB of data was released as part of a research project and AOL was soon forced to delete the information following privacy concerns.
Although the data could not directly be linked to individual users, The New York Times was able to trace one set of search queries to 62 year-old Thelma Arnold from Lilburn, Georgia.
"The release of the AOL data a few months ago showed that you can learn so much about a person from their search engine queries. Imagine that scary lack of privacy, but for everybody on the internet," said Hoffman.
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