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‘Google’ Promises To Keep Information On You For 2 years 2007-03-16

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Intolerance.
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Privacy bodies have welcomed ‘Google’s’ decision to ‘anonymise’ personal data it receives from users’ web searches.

The firm previously held information about searches for an indefinite period but will now anonymise it after 18 to 24 months.

‘This is an extremely positive development,’ said Deputy Director of The Center for Democracy and Technology Mr.Ari Schwartz.

‘It’s the type of thing we have been advocating for a number of years.’

However, governments could still force ‘Google’ to hold onto data or hand it over to authorities. A statement from ‘Google’:

‘By “anonymising” our server logs after 18 to 24 months, we think we’re striking the right balance between two goals: continuing to improve “Google’s” services for you, while providing more transparency and certainty about our retention practices.’

‘Unless we’re legally required to retain log data for longer, we will anonymise our server logs after a limited period of time.’

 ‘Google’s’ privacy counsel for Europe Mr.Peter Fleischer said the decision has been taken after consulting with privacy bodies in the USA and Europe. He said:

‘We believe that privacy is one of the cornerstones of trust. We will be retroactively going back into our log database and anonymising all the information there.’

‘Google’s’ privacy counsel for Europe said the firm was holding on to the information for up to 24 months in part to match data retention laws being rolled out across Europe.

European internet service providers (ISPs) and phone companies are in the process of implementing an EU directive which forces them to retain a variety of communication data for up to two years.

‘Google’ collects and stores data from each query. It holds information such as the search term itself, the unique address of the PC being used, known as the IP address, and details of how a user makes searches, such as the browser used and previous queries to ‘Google’.

That information can contain private data about a user, and could be used to build a detailed picture of the user’s habits or lifestyle.

Google says it was using this information to help improve its different services and to monitor how its search engine was functioning.

Privacy groups are concerned about how the data collected by ‘Google’ — and other web firms — could be used to monitor people’s on-line habits.

Richard Clayton, a researcher at ‘Cambridge University’ specialising in web traceability, said ‘Google’s’ announcement was positive but had not gone far enough.

‘It’s a step forward but I would like to see them “anonymising” data in a much shorter period.

‘There is no justification for holding on to the data for two years.’

Mr.Clayton said the data ‘Google’ collected was useful to the firm in improving its services only in the short term.

He said that ‘Google’ was hiding behind the European directive in setting time limits on how long it should hold on to the data.

‘There is no sense of whether this directive even applies to web search logs,’ he said.

He said the real reason ‘Google’ was holding on to the data was because of the cost involved in ‘anonymising’ it.

He said he also had concerns about how the firm was ensuring that held data could not be traced back to individual users.

‘Google’ has said it will alter the data so that users’ searches cannot be traced back to an individual’s computer.

But Mr.Clayton said the recent row over search data released by ‘AOL’ showed that identification of users could still be made even without a machine’s unique IP address.

‘AOL’ released data to academics last year relating to millions of search queries carried out by its users. While there was no direct identifying data, there was enough information in the searches to build profiles of users.

It is not yet clear if other search engines will follow suit.

‘Yahoo’ said that it would hold onto web data for as long as EU law required — but the firm did not say what it would do with the information beyond the 24 months demanded by the law. In a statement the firm said:

‘Our data retention practices vary according to the diverse nature of our services.

‘We are reviewing “The European Data Retention Directive” as it comes into force across Europe. Our services covered by the directive will comply with the laws as they are enacted in each country that we have a presence.’

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