Google works to privatise data

Written by Brett Thomas

March 15, 2007 // 11:23 a.m.

Tags: #anonymity #data #google #privacy

The security of a user's online search habits is one that has been called into question on numerous occasions in the past few years. Thanks to things like the US "Patriot Act," companies have often been forced to hand over possibly personally identifying info with no warrant and no real cause. Now, Google is saying it's time for the search giant to protect itself and its users with a new commitment to privacy.

Much of the information passed on when you search for something is stored, usually so that Google can then analyze it to develop a macroscopic idea of products and services sought round the globe. Though this type of storage and use is far from illegal, it does require that the company maintain things like IP addresses until the data is sorted. Though Google cares very little what just you search for (the data is used for a much more zoomed-out concept), that doesn't mean others aren't taking an interest.

In order to prevent having to hand over or otherwise allow access to data that will not be used in the way it intends (like advertising metrics), it will start stripping personal information out of its logs much earlier than it did previously. 'Previously, we kept this data for as long as it was useful," the company said. However, recent government requests and privacy activists have made Google reevaluate its stance on the matter.

Don't think that your personal history will disappear in the blink of an eye, however. The data is set to have all personal information removed between 18-24 months from collection, so it can be up to a full two years. And the policy won't even be in full effect for almost a year from now - that means that data is still saved for long enough to build an effective "history" up, just more of a short-term one. Google explains this as striking a balance between meeting a continued user's need for tailored searches and a growing need for privacy.

Of course, Google emphasises that any data collected is voluntary by nature. Many of its products have started to include features to turn off recording, such as the "Off the record" feature of Google Talk (which prevents either person's log from maintaining record fo the statement). Even the cookies which maintain the search information are "optional", as the site will work whether you have them enabled or not.

However, no matter how you slice it, another company committing itself to our privacy is a blessing. Do you have a thought on the announcement? Is it a step in the right direction, a perfect mix, or not quite enough? Let us know your thoughts in our forums.

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