In a move that was probably expected, heads are beginning to roll at Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online division after an embarrassing leak of research data that made public the searching habits of more than 650,000 of its members.

The company's chief technology officer and two employees in the company's research department are being let go, according to today's online version of The Wall Street Journal. Whether they're truly responsible, or simply scapegoats who were unlucky enough to be at the wrong post at the wrong time, AOL needed to take some action to help restore its integrity.

As AOL transitions from its former subscription model to become a free content service, the last thing that the struggling subsidiary needs is a reputation as a place where visitors can't securely search from the screen. Paid search, after all, is where the big bucks are in online advertising. If you're into collecting Hello Kitty lunchboxes or are passionate about the Kansas City Royals, that should be between you and your search box.

AOL has been enhancing the value of its portal in recent months. AOL is even turning to television advertising to promote its In2TV service, which streams classic television shows for free. AOL could use the publicity, since its domestic subscription count has fallen from 26.7 million in the fall of 2002 to only 17.7 million subscribers today. Nimbler access providers like Earthlink (NASDAQ:ELNK) and United Online (NASDAQ:UNTD) have been able to adapt to this tricky environment, while AOL relied on its dial-up training wheels for too long.

Though the leak that splashed unidentified users' search results into the public eye certainly gave AOL a black eye, don't listen to the fearmongers who believe that there are huge ramifications here. No one's going to stop using Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) or Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) over this, just as shoppers didn't stop buying shoes with credit cards just because DSW (NYSE:DSW) had some of its transaction data compromised last year.

The Internet goes on. You'll get that lunchbox one day.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an AOL subscriber since 1992, but he doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.