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Saturday, 26 May 2007 06:30

Google bristles over EU data probe

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The EU's data privacy watchdog has launched an investigation into the personal data retention policies of Google, querying whether the search leader is breaking privacy laws. In its defence, Google has fired back a salvo defending its policies and asking whether the other main search players Yahoo and Microsoft are being similarly scrutinized.

On that last point, Google is justified in asking the question. However, when you're the 880 pound (400kg in the EU) gorilla of search, you've got to expect to be first cab off the rank in any such probe. The EU has the most restrictive laws concerning its citizens' privacy in the world and the Article 29 Working Group is quite justified in asking Google to explain the reasons why it retains data, how the data is protected and exactly how that data is used.

In fact, the public who perform searches on Google have a right to know as well.

So far, all we know is that every time you perform a search, Google records your IP address, your search query, and details of the cookies stored on your hard drive. What's more Google claims that for its "security" it needs to hold on to this data for two years.

No doubt the EU and a large number of private citizens will be interested to know why not only their IP addresses but Google needs or even has the right to retain the often sensitive information contained in tracking cookies placed on their hard drives by websites they have visited. How will that help Google protect itself from hack attacks?

Google also claims that retaining such data enables it to prevent abuse of its advertising system. Having a record of IP addresses clicking ads makes sense in such instances but is it necessary to retain that data for two years? And why the need to retain cookies? One can see how having a record cookies could benefit Google commercially but it's hard to see how this can be related to security.

Like it or not, these are questions that Google needs to answer and the EU is absolutely correct to ask them.

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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