Google Tells Brussels It Needs to Hold on to Users' Search Data

Google defends data policy after warning By Astrid Wendlandt

Google will tell Brussels it needs to hold on to users' search data for up to two years for security and commercial reasons after being warned it could be violating European privacy laws by doing so.

The world's top Internet search engine on Friday said it would respond by June 19 to a letter from a European Union data protection advisory group expressing concern it was keeping information on users' searches for too long.

"The concern of EU law is that a company that collects data on its customers should keep it as long as it is necessary, but not longer," Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Google shares were untroubled by the warning, rising 1.7 percent to $482.26 by 1456 GMT.

With every search, Google gathers information about a customer's tastes, interests and beliefs that could potentially be used by third parties such as advertisers, but the company stresses it never passes it on.

Google last week received a letter from the Article 29 working party, a group of national advisory bodies that counsels the EU on privacy policy, which asked the company to justify its data retention practices.

"I will tell the working party that Google needs to hold on to its log database to protect itself and the system from attacks and refine and improve the effectiveness of our search results," Fleischer said.

He said Google, at its own initiative, had decided in March to limit the time it kept engine search information to between 18 and 24 months. The company previously had no set time limit.

He called on rivals Yahoo! and Microsoft to clarify their data retention practices and policies.

"Will the working party focus on other players in the industry?" Fleischer asked.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: So there seems to be a conflict between USA law and practice and those of the European Union. They seem to want data to be purged more often; while the USA wants it kept around for seemingly forever. I wonder how this will be resolved? PAT]

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Astrid Wendlandt
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