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Google yields to EU privacy concerns

The battle for anonymity on the Internet rages on. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, search engines are having to comply with assorted countries' laws while maintaining privacy for their customers, reports Tech News World.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

The battle for anonymity on the Internet rages on. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, search engines are having to comply with assorted countries' laws while maintaining privacy for their customers, reports Tech News World.

In a recent example, Google has bowed to pressure from the European Union's Data Protection Working Party, by announcing it will "anonymize" its search server logs after 18 months.

Google stated that it will never alter the data sooner than 18 months after its creation and will comply with laws that could require it to retain the information for up to two years.

"We believe that we can still address our legitimate interests in security, innovation and antifraud efforts with this shorter period," wrote Google's privacy counsel Peter Fleischer in an e-mailed letter to the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. The group, a privacy watchdog, has criticized Google's privacy policies, contending the company appeared to be violating EU privacy rules.

Access to all this information on consumer habits has privacy groups concerned. Privacy International, a London-based privacy advocacy group, ranked Google as the worst in protecting customer privacy out of a field of nearly two dozen major Internet-based companies.

But Google insists it never provides outsiders with personally identifiable data. Google's use of cookies to track customers' search habits and the length of time Google retains that data raised red flags in the EU. Google is being forced to address computing privacy issues as it develops new services.

"As we all come to rely on Google for more and more services, it's natural to expect Google's privacy promises to be that much more impressive," said Ben Edelman, a computer privacy expert and assistant professor at Harvard Business School. "When Google was just a search engine, we could write off Google's privacy consequences as limited to search. But when Google indexes users' hard drives, stores e-mails, and even hosts documents and spreadsheets, it matters that much more what Google knows."

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