A lot of you are probably reading this at work and despite that, a lot of you are probably also drunk. That's because most of us have jobs where, if you maybe screw up here and there, it's not the end of the world.
Or at least that's what we'd like to think. It turns out some of the biggest, costliest disasters have resulted from some random employee making a single tiny mistake. Such as ...
5One Leaked File Nearly Brings Down AOL
Over the course of three months in 2006, AOL compiled search data on over 650,000 of its users. That might sound ominous, but all they wanted was a tool for researchers. Sure, the users didn't know their data was being saved, but what they didn't know couldn't hurt them, right? After all, it's not like they would ever release it to the general public.
Somebody should have told company researcher Abdur Chowdhury. On Friday August 4, 2006, with a click of a mouse, Chowdhury uploaded a single compressed text file of the search data on an AOL website that was, in fact, open to the public.
But don't fret, the user names weren't listed and AOL officials quickly realized the mistake and took the file down on Monday, the next business day.
Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
This is the internet, there is no such thing as the next day. By the time the file was taken down, word of the data leak had spread through blogs far and wide, the search results were posted on mirror sites including one that remains today as a searchable database. The media had already taken to the frighteningly easy task of personally identifying some of the users.
See, despite the absence of user names, a number of people had unknowingly identified themselves by way of "ego searches." That means that, along with searches for pleasant topics like rape, murder, committing rape and murder, hiding rape and murder, and Clay Aiken CDs, they also searched for their own names, addresses and social security numbers.
Within days, The New York Times had released, with consent, the name of a user who they tracked down by cross-checking search keywords with phone books and other public information. After a few weeks, AOL had not only fired the researcher responsible for the leak, but also his supervisor and Chief Technology Officer Maureen Govern.
All because of one click of the mouse.
As a bizarre postscript to all of this, one of the users identified in the file only by number ("User 927") became internet famous for having basically the creepiest search habits imaginable. Searches included "human mold," "dog sex," "child porn," "Disney Beauty and the Beast Porn" and, most frighteningly, "'Sugar, We're Going Down' by Fallout Boy." No, really.
Well, recently, a stage production premiered, based on their life, called User 927.