News Flash: Google Disagrees with EU Over Data Retention

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-04-08 Print this article Print


Surprise: The European Commission has said Google's policy to anonymize data after 18 months is still too long. Shocker: Google's privacy guru disagrees.

Folks: I'm linking to this with the understanding that this is a really dense document, stuffed with the Platonian polemics of an organization that treats the definition of search engines as though it has figured out the meaning of life.

The way it characterizes the search engine market is akin to the way a governing body may rationalize crime and punishment. Can you say overdramatic? But that's OK.

The commission really, really wants you to know it holds privacy as a life or death concept and this paper explains its philosphy on search engines like no other.

Now, skip to page 19 of 29, which raises Google's hackles. The European Commission, taking into account the need for search engines to process search data to improve search quality (and make money through placing ads we're likely to click on), believes that search data should not be saved longer than six months.

Moreover, the period should be shortened if companies can't justify holding the data.

"The retention of personal data and the corresponding retention period must always be justified (with concrete and relevant arguments) and reduced to a minimum, to improve transparency to ensure fair processing, and to guarantee proportionality with the purpose that justifies such retention," the commission wrote.

To that end, the commission calls for "privacy by design," and in case search-engine providers retain personal data longer than six months, "they will have to demonstrate comprehensively that it is strictly necessary for the service."

That is quite the heavy hand, but if you really feel threatened by the current retention periods of your data by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others, you're inclined to cheer the organization.

I say it's horse puckey... until someone can deliver a superior search service that doesn't make money from online ads, we're going to have to accept the quite unobstrusive data collection from the large vendors.

The commission doesn't want to accept this. I have my theories on this (notice how the big search engines this will most effect are based in the United States) but that's for another day.    

Google's Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer responds with the mantra-like claims of storing the data for search quality (thus, enabling the company to make more money), which I believe:   

"We believe that data retention requirements have to take into account the need to provide quality products and services for users, like accurate search results, as well as system security and integrity concerns."

Folks, this is an ongoing debate and won't be decided on anytime soon. What will be interesting to see if what kind of regulation the commission aims to place on the search engines now that it's figured out what search engines are and do.

Will Google, et al, be forced to adjust their search engines for each nation? That will be a huge challenge and a major problem.


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