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Google caves in to EU over search logs

By Matthew Sparkes

Posted on 9 Sep 2008 at 07:42

Google is to halve the amount of time it stores identifiable IP addresses and search logs following increased pressure from the EU regarding its data retention policy.

A variety of user data is currently stored by Google for 18 months, including activity logs and IP addresses. The company uses this information to combat click fraud and to improve the quality of searches, and claims that it encourages innovation in its tools and services.

However, the search firm has long been under pressure from the EU to minimise the amount of time it stores such identifiable information on internet users.

"Today, we're announcing a new logs retention policy: we'll anonymise IP addresses on our server logs after nine months. We're significantly shortening our previous 18 month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users," says a post on the Google blog.

The company originally announced in March 2007 that it would begin to anonymise user data after 18 months, itself a reaction to regulatory pressure. However, instead of completely removing IP addresses from its records the data was only lightly scrambled in order to retain some value for the company.

"Although that was good for privacy, it was a difficult decision because the routine server log data we collect has always been a critical ingredient of innovation," explains the same Google blog post.

The initial move was not enough for the EU, though, which continued to question the need for the retention of such personal data. Google has now submitted to this sustained pressure by further reducing the amount of time it stores information, but has been working on new ways to continue to make use of it.

"We believed further reducing the period before anonymising would degrade the utility of the data too much and outweigh the incremental privacy benefit for users. After months of work our engineers developed methods for preserving more of the data's utility while also anonymising IP addresses sooner," says the announcement, which stops short of providing exact details of what will be done with server logs.

No technical details of the new method of anonymising have been given, and Google was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

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