The European Union has been trying to get Google to cut the time it retains users’ IP addresses and related search query logs. In response to EU requests and pressure, the company adopted a compromise position (in March, 2007). Google said it would still retain data but would make it anonymous after 18-24 months. Google had argued it needed the data to improve its services, uncover fraud and so on.
The EU has not been satisfied and continued to pressure Google to reduce data retention time. So today Google said it was cutting the period that it keeps user data in half:
Today, we’re announcing a new logs retention policy: we’ll anonymize IP addresses on our server logs after 9 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.
This also comes against the backdrop in the US of some new, potential complications in the approval of its paid search deal with Yahoo. It’s unclear whether the Justice Department review of the Google-Yahoo paid search deal entered into Google’s thinking about the decision to adopt a shorter data retention period. I’m guessing it did not.
To provide its recommendations Google Suggest needs to know what you’ve already typed, so these partial queries are sent to Google. For 98% of these requests, we don’t log any data at all and simply return the suggestions. For the remaining 2% of cases (which we select randomly), we do log data, like IP addresses, in order to monitor and improve the service.
However, given the concerns that have been raised about Google storing this information — and its limited potential use — we decided that we will anonymize it within about 24 hours (basically, as soon as we practically can) in the 2% of Google Suggest requests we use. This will take a little time to implement, but we expect it to be in place before the end of the month.
It’s worth noting that Google’s Chrome offers an anonymous browsing feature (Incognito), as does the new IE8.