Google has bowed to pressure from privacy regulators and will slash the amount of identifying information it holds on hundreds of millions of web surfers who use its internet search engine each day. The move comes as concerns continue to mount over the volume of potentially identifying data that search engines, advertisers and internet service providers collect on individuals while they're online.
It is also the second time in little more than a year that Google has been forced to modify its information management policies in response to concerns from regulators and privacy groups.
Google announced the decision in a letter to European Union privacy regulators and said it would render information anonymous that was stored in its search logs after nine months, instead of after the existing 18-month period.
The logs contain details of each search query entered into Google and the internet protocol addresses that identify individual computers used to conduct the searches.
Google has argued repeatedly that analysing the information stored in the logs allows it to improve the performance of its search engine but in March last year it capped the length of time the identifying information was stored to 18 months.
Under the new policy Google will sever links between search queries and IP addresses after nine months.
"We will make this change worldwide," Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote in the letter, which Google published through its corporate blog.
In an accompanying blog post on Tuesday, Google said that advances in technology were allowing it to reduce the length of time it held identifying data but the company again expressed concerns that the changes would stifle its ability to improve its search engine.
Google also asserted that "anonymising" data would limit its ability to spot fraudulent activity and argued that there were limits to the benefits of anonymising data held in search logs.
"While we're glad this will bring some additional improvement in privacy, we're also concerned about the potential loss of security, quality and innovation that may result from having less data," Mr Fleischer wrote in the blog post.
"As the period prior to anonymisation gets shorter, the added privacy benefits are less significant and the utility lost from the data grows.
"So, it's difficult to find the perfect equilibrium between privacy on the one hand, and other factors, such as innovation and security, on the other."
Privacy advocates have long voiced concerns over the amount of information Google holds about the many millions of web surfers who use its search engine and applications, such as Gmail.
However, Google has argued that consumers are willing to sacrifice some privacy in return for access to products and services.
Nevertheless, concerns continue to build over the amount of information internet companies and advertisers are collecting on individuals as they track the activity of people moving about the web.
- For the second time in a year, Google has had to cap data life in response to privacy concerns.
- It will 'anonymise' user data after nine months instead of 18 months.
- It says this will compromise quality.
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