Microsoft Confirms Turning Over Search Data to Feds

Microsoft has officially released search queries by its MSN Search users to the U.S. Department of Justice, but stresses that "absolutely no personal data" changed hands.

Microsoft now acknowledges it complied with a controversial U.S. Department of Justice subpoena for a look at its MSN search customer activity.

The Microsoft admission, in a recent blog by MSN Search Dev & Test General Manager Ken Moss, assures MSN search users that "absolutely no personal data" changed hands.

Microsofts participation is not a surprise. Sources that knew of the situation outted Microsoft last week.

This collision of child privacy and porn, Internet search companies and the DOJ could impact corporate technology buyers, sellers and users.

In the blog, Moss said Microsoft gave the DOJ a random sample of pages from the MSN search index, which is what MSN Search customers plumb during their search inquiries.

More controversially, Microsoft also provided "some aggregated query logs that listed queries and how often they occurred." Put another way, its a look at the key words MSN search customers entered over an extended period of time.

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The "aggregated" reference suggests Microsoft provided a statistical analysis of customer search inquiries, not what privacy advocates fear is a detailed list of customer inquiries.

A Microsoft representative couldnt immediately be reached for comment.

The DOJ subpoenas are, ostensibly, a mundane step in what had been a rather obscure court proceeding.

Justice lawyers want the search queries to prove that Web filters arent effective. That data would then be used in a trial seeking to revive a 1998 law, known by its initials COPA, which holds Internet interests responsible for exposing Web-surfing minors to inappropriate material.

Microsoft, Yahoo, which operates the Internets most popular destination, plus America Online Inc. and its top tier Internet search engine all said that they are cooperating with the DOJ.

Google, the most popular Internet search engine, has yet to comply. Last Wednesday, the DOJ sought a court order to compel Google to turn over the data.

The actions have since ballooned in significance chiefly due to the major search company admissions. Now, theres a spotlight on the privacy issues at play for business and general interest Internet users.

The hubbub can be blamed on the fact that what someone searches the Internet for reveals very sensitive information about businesses dealings and personal lives.

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By possibly reviving the COPA law, theres also new headaches for database administrators, enterprise-class search hardware makers, Web page operators and other Web interests.

These enterprises would need to ensure, as COPA dictates, that minors are not exposed to anything that could be deemed "harmful."

Also, any results from the governments testing of Web content filters could make or break that product.

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