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Google bows to keystroke privacy concerns

To quell privacy fears, Google says IP addresses and other data stored through use of Google Suggest will be rendered anonymous within a day.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on
See all ZDNet Chrome coverage.

Google says it will anonymize user data received through search requests entered in the company's search engine and Chrome browser.

In response to concerns over privacy, Google announced on Monday that it would render the data anonymous within 24 hours of it being gathered. Writing on the official Google blog, senior vice president of operations Urs Hölzle also noted that the data was, in any case, of "limited potential use" to Google.

The data in question is that gathered through use of Google Suggest, the service that provides a dropdown menu of suggested queries as a user types a query into Google's search engine, or into Chrome's 'Omnibox'. Suggest does this by logging keystrokes as they are made, then offering a list of possible auto-completions of what has been typed.

In 98 percent of search requests made using Suggest, no data is stored at all. According to Hölzle, in the remaining two percent of cases--selected randomly by Google--data, such as IP addresses, is stored so that the company can "monitor and improve the service".

"Given the concerns that have been raised about Google storing this information--and its limited potential use--we [have] decided that we will anonymise it within about 24 hours (basically, as soon as we practically can) in the two percent of Google Suggest requests we use," wrote Hölzle. "This will take a little time to implement, but we expect it to be in place before the end of the month."

Google Suggest has been around since 2004, but interest in its privacy implications was revived last week when the company launched Chrome, its open-source browser.

Chrome's URL box is called the Omnibox because it also doubles as a search bar. In default settings, that search functionality is set to use Google Suggest.

Some, such as Germany's Federal Bureau for Information Technology Security, have voiced discomfort at the amount of user information Google is now able to gather since Chrome's launch, given that the company also has significant market share in the email and search markets.

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