Yahoo to anonymize data in three months, putting Microsoft's 18-month policy to shame

Yahoo will scrub user data on search, ad clicks and page views after three months, while Google's policy stands at nine months and Microsoft is an undefendable 18 months.

Yahoo will anonymize user data after only three months, the company announced today. That's three times faster than Google's nine-month retention policy. Microsoft remains old school with an 18-month policy, although it offered to cut retention to six months, but only if its competitors did likewise.

It's a welcome move and a challenge to Google to do as well. But the search landscape has changed so dramatically -- with Yahoo brought to its knees while Google appears more dominant than ever – that it's not clear to me that Google will feel a particular need to respond.

The press release notes that

regulators, legislators and advocates from around the globe have asked the industry to examine data policies with a focus on retention periods

Short of a renewed interest from Congress in the issue (which is certainly possible), I don't see Google rushing to slice its retention policy. Yahoo is certainly to be commended for taking unilateral action, especially in light of Microsoft's game of chicken. I think the pressure is on Microsoft, more than Google, to cut retention at least to Google's 9-month level.

Here's the PR quote from Anne Toth, vp of policy and head of policy:

In our world of customized online services, responsible use of data is critical to establishing and maintaining user trust. We know that our users expect relevant and compelling content and advertising when they visit Yahoo!, but they also want assurances that we are focused on protecting their privacy.

The statement says that Yahoo will anonymize search logs, page views, page clicks, ad views and ad clicks. There are exceptions, of course, for legal, fraud and security reasons.