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Google cedes ground to privacy lobby RRS feed

  • Question

  • Google is reducing the length of time during which it stores personal data after a European Union watchdog suggested that the internet giant could be in breach of European privacy laws.

    In May, the Article 29 working party, which advises the EU on data protection issues, wrote to Google, asking it to explain why it needed to retain details of users' web searches for as long as two years.

     

    The working party also questioned whether Google's data retention policy "fulfilled all the necessary requirements" of privacy laws.

    But Google, which is used to execute more than 60pc of web searches globally, has always maintained that it needs to store personal information in order to improve its search function and protect users from spam and online fraud.

    In a letter to the EU watchdog, Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said: "After considering the working party's concerns, we are announcing a new policy: to anonymize our search server logs after 18 months, rather than the previously-established period of 18 to 24 months."

    The change in policy comes on the back of increasing pressure from privacy campaigners who are concerned about the amount of personal data Google is gathering.

    Every time people search the internet using Google, the company collects personal information about users' interests and beliefs. But the company insists this potentially-sensitive data is not shared outside of Google.

    Privacy International, the human rights organisation, argued in a recent report that Google has an "entrenched hostility to privacy" and ranked it the worst of the 23 sites it studied over six months.

    Mr Fleischer said that the principles of privacy, security, innovation and the legal obligation to retain data can sometimes conflict.

    He explained: "While shorter retention periods are good for privacy, longer retention periods are needed for security, innovation and compliance reasons."

    He insisted that Google has "struck a reasonable balance between these various factors" and stressed that "our policies are consistent with EU data protection laws."

    While Google has been working with the EU on its data retention policy, other leading internet businesses, such as Amazon, eBay and Microsoft, are yet to clarify limits on how long they hold personal information for.

    In a letter to Google sent last month, Peter Schaar, chairman of the Article 29 working party, contrasted Google's "readiness to consult" with "a relative lack of engagement by some of the other leading players in the search engine community."

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007 11:05 AM