Microsoft Bing Will Follow Yahoo Privacy Policy in Search Deal

Microsoft will follow Yahoo's privacy practices for search data, which demand that data such as IP addresses be purged after 90 days, after the two companies close their search and advertising deal in which Bing will be used to power search on Yahoo's sites. Those who use Bing directly, as opposed to through Yahoo, can expect to have their search-query data purged after six months under a newly announced policy.

Microsoft recently announced that it would delete the stored IP addresses of Bing users after six months, but that data may be purged even sooner for those who use Bing though Yahoo's sites once Microsoft and Yahoo close their search and advertising deal sometime in 2010.

In a Jan. 18 post on the Microsoft on the Issues blog, Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen wrote, "We will delete the entire Internet Protocol address associated with search queries at six months rather than 18 months." That shift in policy, he said, was based on "a number of factors including a continuing evaluation of our business needs, the current competitive landscape and our ongoing dialogue with privacy advocates, consumer groups and regulators."

Cullen cited the Article 29 Working Party, "the group of 27 European national data protection regulators charged with providing advice to the European Commission and other EU institutions on data protection," as one of the regulators whose views were taken into consideration. The Article 29 Working Party had previously issued guidelines for protecting personal data online, and it can be surmised that Microsoft is anxious to avoid any further European legislative entanglements after the epic 2009 drama over the inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows 7.

On Jan. 19, a Yahoo spokesperson sent an e-mail to eWEEK highlighting Yahoo's own Data Anonymization Policy:

""Under the policy, Yahoo will anonymize user log data, including deletion of total IP addresses, after 90 days with limited exceptions to fight fraud, secure systems and meet legal obligations.""

The difference in the Yahoo and Microsoft policies, however, seems to suggest a possible bone of contention with regard to the two companies' upcoming search and advertising agreement.

Under the terms of that agreement, Bing will power search on Yahoo's sites, while Yahoo assumes exclusive worldwide sales duties for both companies' search advertisers. The deal is widely expected to be cleared by antitrust regulators and to go into effect sometime in 2010. In an Aug. 24 press conference, Yahoo executives suggested that their company had pulled out of the "megawatt war" for search with the Microsoft deal, instead choosing to focus on building its user base for online applications such as e-mail.

The Yahoo spokesperson, however, suggested that Bing would have to conform to Yahoo policy when used to power search on the company's sites: "Microsoft will need to comply with Yahoo's policies for data we convey to them."

In a separate conversation, Microsoft seemed to concur with Yahoo.

"Microsoft will follow Yahoo's privacy practices for search data that it receives from Yahoo," Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's senior director of privacy strategy, wrote in a Jan. 20 e-mail to eWEEK. "In particular, Microsoft will adhere to Yahoo's data retention policy with respect to all searches and IP addresses that Yahoo collects and passes to Microsoft."

But whether such a policy will draw more users to Yahoo, seeking to have their search queries purged more often, remains to be seen. As Microsoft and Google continue their search engine competition throughout 2010, those data-purging deadlines may change again as either side seeks to appeal to more privacy-conscious users and advocacy groups.