AOL data spill leads to dismissals, resignation

AOL has fired two employees and its CTO has left the company after search data from 658,000 customers was accidentally exposed earlier this month.

Two weeks after AOL apologized for releasing keyword search information from about 658,000 anonymous users, the chief technology officer has left the company and two other employees have been fired.

CTO Maureen Govern will be replaced on an interim basis by John McKinley, who had held that position before becoming AOL's president for digital services, according to the Associated Press (AP). The change takes effect immediately, according to a memo AOL Chief Executive Jonathan Miller sent to employees Monday.

Meanwhile, the AOL researcher who released the data and that employee's direct supervisor were fired, a person familiar with the company's decisions told the AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because release of personnel information was not authorized, would not say whether Govern's departure was voluntary.

AOL, a division of Time Warner Inc., released information on about 20 million searches from 658,000 users of its AOL software from a three-month period.

"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," AOL spokesperson Andrew Weinstein said at the time. "It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted. If it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant."

At least two groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. In its complaint, filed last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation accused AOL of breaking a promise to protect its subscribers' privacy, the AP reported.

In a separate memo, Miller outlined a four-part plan to "help ensure this type of incident never happens again.'' The measures include the creation of a task force to review privacy and data retention policies and the evaluation of technologies designed to flag sensitive information.

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