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Thursday, 15 March 2007 08:14

Google adopts tougher privacy safeguards

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Google is making it harder to link search requests back to the person who made them, in an effort to hamper efforts by governments to trawl search logs in search of wrong doers.

Google intends to strip key identifiers from information in its system every 18 to 24 months, which still complies with various laws around the world dictating how long search engines must retain user information.

While Google previously retained IP addresses and cookie details of search results "as long as it was useful," soon users will no longer be identifiable after 18 to 24 months, according to a statement by Google Privacy Counsel-Europe, Peter Fleischer, and Deputy General Counsel, Nicole Wong.

"By anonymizing our server logs after 18-24 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," they said.

"In the future, it's possible that data retention laws will obligate us to retain logs for longer periods. Of course, you can always choose to have us retain this data for more personalized services like Search History. But that's up to you."

The move by Google is the first time it has specified how long it retains users' data and comes after a series of high profile incidents regarding the privacy of search engine users. Last year Google fought a U.S. Justice Department subpoena for user search requests in an online pornography investigation. AOL's release of 19 million search requests on the Internet as part of a research project back fired when the information was used to identify some of the people who made the searches.

Recently moves to the placate the privacy concerns of users include Google Talk's "off the record" feature or Google Desktop's "pause" and "lock search" controls).


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