(AFP) – Sep 9, 2008
BRUSSELS (AFP) — Internet giant Google moved on Tuesday to calm privacy concerns with plans to halve the time it keeps users' web search data on record following pressure from European regulators.
The Mountainview, California-based company said on its official blog it was reducing the amount of time it keeps the search data associated with a user's unique Internet address to nine months from 18 months currently.
After nine months search data would be disassociated with so-called Internet protocol addresses. The company did not say when the measure would take effect.
"We're significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users," the company said.
"That's a significant improvement in privacy terms, and it puts us ahead of the rest of the industry," Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer in a conference call with Brussels-based journalists.
He noted that Microsoft retained search logs for 18 months while Yahoo! kept such information for 13 months.
Fleischer said that Google's moves "are part of a broader trend that is increasing across the industry for companies to compete in good privacy practices."
Google used to hold search data indefinitely until March 2007 when it reduced retention times to 18 months from when the information was collected.
The company said it was making the new move over persisting privacy concerns from data protection regulators, especially in the European Union, which remained "skeptical" about storing data.
An EU working group recommended in April that Internet search engines should only be allowed to process users personal data for "legitimate purposes." It also saw no basis for retaining search data beyond six months.
Legal expert Emilie Barrau at the BEUC European consumers association said that Google's move marked a step in the "right direction," but she added that "it was not decided alone."
"They decided (to do it) under pressure from European regulatory authorities," she said.
Barrau also said that it remained to be seen how Google disassociated search data from a users Internet address, warning that the link can be reconstructed when it is badly done.
Google said that keeping the data on record for a shorter amount of time would reduce its utility and hurt innovation.
"While we're glad that this will bring some additional improvement in privacy, we're also concerned about the potential loss of security, quality, and innovation that may result from having less data," it said on its blog.
As it has pumped out a steady stream of innovations over the years, Google has frequently come under fire from government regulators and privacy advocates over fears the company can accumulate masses of personal details about users.
In recent months, the company has blurred faces of people and car licence plate numbers in street scenes pictured at its free online mapping service in order to avert privacy complaints.
Google's Fleischer acknowledged that the technology to blur these items is still not perfect, but to his knowledge so far no complaints had been received.
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