Microsoft Privacy Guru States His Case
After evaluating the issue, Microsoft concluded earlier this month that a 6 month retention policy is feasible.
If Google, Yahoo and Microsoft agreed to a 6-month timeframe it would
keep the playing field level for the search engines. "The company that
has more data to analyze has the greater ability to improve the
relevance of the search engine," he said.
Does that mean Microsoft would match Yahoo's new 3 month policy? Lynch wouldn't bite, noting only that Microsoft constantly reviewing what is an acceptable time frame. "Ultimately what we're looking for is a common approach across the industry and not just on timeframe."
But months is unlikely to satisfy privacy advocates. EFF's Eckersley said Yahoo is clearly doing a better job on this issue than Google, which in most cases could look up a person's search history very easily for 18 months because it still keeps cookie IDs for 18 months, and hasn't announced any deletion of "giveaway" searches for things like names and phone numbers.
"A gold star to Yahoo, and a gold star to the European Union for scaring the search engines into offering Internet users more privacy," Eckersley said.
Consumer Watchdog's Simpson called on Google to give its search users control over their private data; transparency about how their data is gathered and used; and the right to give informed consent through opt in functions, rather than having to sift through pages in order to opt out.
For its part, Google is content with its current policy, which the company halved from 18 months to nine in September.
"When we make changes to our policies, they are dependent on what will be best for our users both in terms of the services we provide and the respect of their privacy. It is a balance that we are continually evaluating," wrote Jane Horvath, senior privacy counsel at Google, in an e-mail sent to eWEEK.
Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are expected to make their cases in presentations in February to the European Commission's Article 29 Working Party, an advisory panel comprising data protection commissioners from each of its 27 member countries.
The meeting will be the latest battle in the tug of war between the government body, which is bent on protecting users' privacy, and the search providers, which are determined to store data to improve their services.
The European Commission has been more aggressive toward regulating search engines to date. With the installation of U.S. President Barack Obama, it is unclear how this fight will evolve in 2009 at home and abroad.