Google to Anonymize Suggest User Data After One Day

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-09-09 Print this article Print

Google sure is stitching up its loose privacy ends.

Heeding concerns about search data information Google stores in its new Suggest feature, Google today said it will anonymize that data within 24 hours in the Google Suggest requests it uses.

Google Suggest provides users suggestions for search queries from the home page as they type queries in. So, when you're typing into the search box on Google Toolbar or, or the Omnibox in Google Chrome, Google Suggest guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time.

To work as such, Google Suggest needs to know what you've already typed, so these partial queries are sent to Google.

For 98 percent of these requests, Google won't log any data at all. However, randomly it will log IP addresses for 2 percent of the cases to monitor and improve the service.

This move comes less than a week after Google took heat after launching its Chrome Web browser and acknowledging that its Omnibox feature stores 2 percent of the user information it collects. We now know it uses Google Suggest.

In another interesting timing case, the Suggest update came just hours after the company halved its data retention policy for socking away IP addresses, moving the needle from 18 months to nine.

Google Operations Engineer Urs Hölzle alluded to the differences between anonymizing data for Suggest and its core Web search in his post, noting:

All data retention is a balance between user privacy and trust on the one hand, and security and innovation on the other. In the case of Google Suggest we decided it's possible to provide a great service while anonymizing data almost immediately. But in other cases - such as our core web search - storing data like IP addresses for a time is crucial to make improvements to search quality, improve security, fight fraud and reduce spam.

The timing of these privacy moves is even more juicy because they were, coincidentally or not, precipitated by two ominous moves against Google regarding its pending seach ad deal with Yahoo.

First, the the Association of National Advertisers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice denouncing Google's pact with Yahoo as bad for advertisers and recommending that it be blocked. 

Second, the Wall Street Journal said the U.S. Department of Justice has hired Sonny Litvack, likely to oppose Google's pending search ad deal with Yahoo. Google has held off on that deal, in which Google's search ads would run alongside Yahoo's search platform, to give the DOJ time to scrutinize it.

The heat is definitely being turned up on Google regarding users' search data privacy rights and whether or not Google is acting in an anticompetitive manner by looking to sell search ads on frenemy Yahoo. |

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