Google's legal department has put a stop to a subversive web prank that makes a point about our loss of Internet privacy.
The delicious URL has been circulating privately for the past fortnight.
The website is a détournement of the Google features page, only with the intriguing addition that Google now hosts five years' worth of searchable AOL chat logs.
Or as the page explains:-
"In November of 2001 AOL Time Warner, responding to a subpoena from Attorney General John Ashcroft, made available to the Justice Department a complete archive of all private conversations held over AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Through the power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Google was able to obtain a copy of this entire logfile, totaling over 2 terabytes of conversations previously thought to be private."
"This unique resource provides insight into the minds of potential anti-American terrorists, cheating spouses, and countless computer neophytes."
AIM in a nutshell, then.
In the best Situationist tradition, the prank is followed to its logical conclusion with a real, ahem, searchable database of the "logs", which you can find here. And it works, too. You'll need to type in two AIM user Ids - although any two strings appear to get you into the logs.
But you'll need to hurry.
Not surprisingly, Google has objected to the cheeky appropriation of its trademark, and the site hoster has agreed to comply to its request to remove site by January 14th. We notice that already the "Google" logo has been altered to "Googol".
Credit for the prank, we can reveal, goes to one Brian Del Vecchio, a network systems engineer (and former lead at Ascend), who conceived the idea.
And we doubt if we'll see a funnier site all year. It's a slick and effortless response to our loss of privacy, our voyeurism, and the ease with which recent wiretapping legislation has ploughed through the constitution. Pretty much a neat summary of the zeitgeist.
And like the best engineering it's so gracefully constructed you don't see the joins.
Catch it before if comes down. ®