Microsoft Complies With EU Demand, First To Cut Data Retention To Six Months

Microsoft is the first of the major search engines to agree to the European Union’s demand that data retention be cut to six months. The company will now completely delete IP addresses after six months. Here’s what Microsoft said on the Bing community blog about the move:

Today we sent a letter to the Article 29 Working Party notifying them of our intention to make a change to Bing’s data retention policy.

Specifically, we are reducing the amount of time we store IP addresses from searchers to 6 months.  Currently we keep that information for 18 months before we delete it.  Generally, when Bing receives search data we do a few things: first, we take steps to separate your account information (such as email or phone number) from other information (what the query was, for example). Then, after 18 months we take the additional step of deleting the IP address and any other cross session IDs associated with the query. Under the new policy, we will continue to take all the steps we applied previously – but now we will remove the IP address completely at 6 months, instead of 18 months.

Google and Yahoo have yet to agree to this, but Microsoft’s move puts pressure on them to do so. Google has argued in the past that it needs to store user date to improve the quality of search:

Back in March 2007, Google became the first leading search engine to announce a policy to anonymize our search server logs in the interests of privacy. And many others in the industry quickly followed our lead. 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. We have published a series of blog posts explaining how we use logs data for the benefit of our users: to make improvements to search quality, improve security, fight fraud and reduce spam.

Currently Google “anonymizes” IP addresses on its server logs after nine months. Again, what Microsoft is agreeing to do is not just make anonymous but completely delete IP addresses after six months.

Google will likely have to match Microsoft’s position and will have difficulty continuing to argue that IP data retention for more than six months is necessary for any purpose. Yahoo may, upon implementation of the Microsoft-Yahoo Search deal, automatically be opted in to this via Microsoft’s compliance.

Here are previous posts on this subject:

About The Author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.