Print 15 comment(s) - last by sxr7171.. on Sep 11 at 7:58 PM

Search data to be anonymized after nine months, instead of 18

Google will now retain users’ search requests for half the amount of time that it used to, promising to scrub its server logs for personally identifiable data after nine months, instead of 18.

The change was announced on its official blog Monday evening.

Google says it was initially reluctant to reduce its retention policies because doing so would degrade the quality of its research data – based heavily on search engine logs – which it claims is a “critical ingredient” in its ongoing innovation.

 “Over the last two years, policymakers and regulators – especially in Europe and the U.S. – have continued to ask us (and others in the industry) to explain and justify this shortened logs retention policy,” reads the post, which CNET attributes to Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer. “We responded by [explaining] how we were trying to strike the right balance between sometimes conflicting factors like privacy, security, and innovation. Some in the community of EU data protection regulators continued to be skeptical of the legitimacy of logs retention and demanded detailed justifications for this retention. Many of these privacy leaders also highlighted the risks of litigants using court-ordered discovery to gain access to logs, as in the recent Viacom suit.”

As a result, Google will be “significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users.”

The decision did not come lightly, however. The company initially believed that reducing retention beyond 18 months “would degrade the utility of [our] data too much and outweigh the incremental privacy benefit for users.”

“We didn't stop working on this computer science problem, though,” it continues. “After months of work our engineers developed methods for preserving more of the data's utility while also anonymizing IP addresses sooner. We haven't sorted out all of the implementation details, and we may not be able to use precisely the same methods for anonymizing as we do after 18 months, but we are committed to making it work.”

Google says it retains search data in order to combat spam, internet fraud, malicious web sites, and to comply with “valid legal orders” from government agencies, reports the BBC.

Privacy advocates fear that Google’s ubiquity could be turned against its users, as complete server logs – which contain, at the least, the user’s IP address and search terms – would allow one to build a comprehensive profile of almost any given user.

Such was the case for AOL in 2006, when company researchers released-and-then-retracted the private search histories for over 650,000 of its subscribers: using only that data, which consisted primarily of an anonymized user ID and search request, investigators were able to trace individual searches with an almost frightening precision – including one such user, whose name and search history eventually landed in the New York Times.

Google’s myriad services present an even larger set of possibilities, however: search records can be crosslinked with Gmail access logs, for example, to build a comprehensive e-mail/search profile of a given user. Take those same records and crosslink them with AdWords, and a nearly-complete web-surfing history comes into focus – accurate to a single IP address.

Google also announced that it would anonymize data from its Google Suggest service, which powers the Omnibox in Google Chrome, and Google Search utilities in Firefox and the iPhone, after 24 hours.

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Google has dirt on us all
By pauldovi on 9/10/2008 9:07:20 AM , Rating: 2
You know it.

RE: Google has dirt on us all
By mmntech on 9/10/2008 9:33:16 AM , Rating: 3
Like all the porn people have searched for in the last month? That's gotta fill at least a few dozen racks of 1tb drives.

It's about time since despite what they claim, there's no reason to keep that data. It just opens the door for abuse. Hopefully Google will take the same attitude and apply it to their Chinese portal as well.

RE: Google has dirt on us all
By imperator3733 on 9/10/2008 10:32:21 AM , Rating: 2
I totally agree that there's no reason to keep any of this data for everyone. I think it would be okay if it was an opt-in service that was separate from everything else, sort of like Microsoft's optional error reporting system.

RE: Google has dirt on us all
By Polynikes on 9/10/2008 11:26:14 AM , Rating: 4
Why would anyone want to opt-in to such a system?

RE: Google has dirt on us all
By daftrok on 9/10/2008 6:12:37 PM , Rating: 2
So that future errors of that nature can be avoided.

RE: Google has dirt on us all
By foolsgambit11 on 9/10/08, Rating: 0
Wrong balance
By Smilin on 9/10/2008 2:15:02 PM , Rating: 3
"We responded by [explaining] how we were trying to strike the right balance between sometimes conflicting factors like privacy, security, and innovation"

There is no striking a balance. Privacy and Security always trump innovation. Google shows again and again that they just don't get this.

There is no reason why they cannot completely anonymize search queries immediately. I understand they wish to make a correlation that a person who searches for X is also typically interested in Y but there is no need to know anything else about that person at all.

Do no evil my ass.

RE: Wrong balance
By icanhascpu on 9/10/2008 4:30:56 PM , Rating: 3
You sound like you have something to hide.

RE: Wrong balance
By Smilin on 9/10/2008 6:09:24 PM , Rating: 2
I bet you say the same thing when someone excercises their 5th amendment rights.


RE: Wrong balance
By icanhascpu on 9/10/2008 8:54:44 PM , Rating: 1
lol Wouldn't that be evident they have something to hide? :P

RE: Wrong balance
By Smilin on 9/11/2008 12:52:05 PM , Rating: 2
I suppose if you're in the gestapo. It seems you have no concept of privacy and freedom either. I'm not sure you deserve the bill of rights. Bummer that so many people have sacrificed so much to see that you get it.

RE: Wrong balance
By sxr7171 on 9/11/2008 7:58:50 PM , Rating: 2
It's usually the holier than thou types like you who are found to have tons of child porn and other disgusting stuff around. So just shut up and stop incriminating yourself.

Teh devilz!
By icanhascpu on 9/10/2008 2:08:19 PM , Rating: 3
Google is evil! I didnt read past the title, but that seems to be the trend on this site, and I wanna be cool too, guys.

Anyone can find anything bad with anything Google does. All in all, they are a pretty good company for how large and how evil they could be. They make searching alot better for the majority of people, and make alot of cool littlke apps that entertain family for ages. If youre so worried about what youre surfing, dont blame google. Stop being to depressing.

RE: Teh devilz!
By Smilin on 9/10/2008 2:17:12 PM , Rating: 2
Stop being so naive and short sighted. Privacy is a slippery slope.

RE: Teh devilz!
By Smilin on 9/10/2008 2:18:14 PM , Rating: 2
Case in point... the other article listed off to the right:

"YouTube Ordered to Give Complete User Logs to Viacom"

“We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” -- Steve Jobs
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