News is breaking that the European Commission could push for laws to restrict the personal search data held by search companies to no longer than six months, after which it must be discarded. The EC Article 29 data Protection Working Party seems to be heading for a confrontation with search engine giants, most of whom hang on to such data for much, much longer.

The European Commission will argue that this data can be used to build profiles even when some identifying information is deleted, and historically the privacy implications surrounding such profiling have been made pretty clear it has to be said. Anyone recall the great AOL Search debacle when journalists were able to track individuals down despite identifying material being removed from the research database?

The Article 29 report recommends data should be deleted or otherwise made 'irreversibly anonymous' after it no longer serves any purpose and suggests that this would be an absolute maximum of six months.

Google insists that it was the first company to anonymise search logs and that user privacy is at the heart of all its products. Yahoo also says it is committed to providing clear and comprehensive privacy policies. Yet both, of course, retain that data for longer than six months. It will be interesting to see where we go from here and juts how messy things get.

About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...

If you are stupid enough to use a search engine for something that could possibly be incriminating, you probably deserve to get punished. We've known for a very long time now that we can be tracked, and in most cases laughably easy, through the internet. Our actions can be monitored at any time.

Maulth, it's not about criminal cases. It's about abuse of privacy sensitive material by the search engine companies themselves.
And especially the extremely privacy hostile practices employed by Google, who have so much information about hundreds of millions of people that, were they a government department anywhere outside a communist dictatorship, they'd be in violation of privacy laws.

Google knows enough about most people in the "free world" to do whatever they want with your identity.
Essentially they own you, they know more about you than you know yourself.
And with the acquisition of more and more companies that profile is getting ever more complete.
If they aren't stopped, soon you'll be utterly at their mercy, unable to do anything without their knowledge and permission.

scru 909

Maulth, use your noggin. Why would the EU want to protect criminals from the search engines? It's about much more than that. Although Jwenting's response *sounds* doomsday-ish, they really do keep data that can easily identify our habits, interests, moral beings. Should we just trust them with this kind of power because they're Google? (or Yahoo :P ?). Why would they waste so much server space keeping this data if they didn't intend to use it? People need to think about these things, and stop defending the motives of (of all things) corporations.

I'm not defending corportations in the slightest, my point is that if you are unintelligent or negligent enough to worry about what you type into a search engine it's bad. As for the privacy bit, I understand people like their privacy, I like mine, but a search engine keeping records on what I search doesn't really bother or affect me. I don't go into google and type something that could get me in trouble, or come back to haunt me in anyway. Yes, I'm sure google knows more about me then myself. Were you at woodstock? "It's the corporations man, fight the power" Is exactly what you sound like right now. While I do not think corporations should have as much power as they do, keeping logs longer or less than six months affects

scru 909

Ha. Ask me this again when one of them sells your identity to some shady firm, or some hacker breaks into their system and steals it.

What you search for doesn't even have to be incrinating or something that can get you in trouble. I find it amusing that you insist that anyone who thinks otherwise is "unintelligent". I tend to find that people who use that word are exactly what they describe.

"Yes I'm sure Google knows more about me than myself" -- and you're okay with that?!

When you let these total strangers collect data on you that can profile you, no matter how innocent the data may seem, it still points to your identity.

It's the corporations man, fight the power??? You have something against hippies? They *did* get a few things right. Anybody who knows a dime's worth about business knows that corporations are formed with the intention of doing one primary thing. No ifs, no buts. Why should I trust Google to be any different, especially when its past and ongoing actions have classified it as a perfect fit for the hippie definition?

And talking about how I sound...let's think how *you* sound for a minute. It's like the phone company (not even the government) is tapping your phone for some shady reason not even clear to you, and you just simply shrug and say "Oh well. It's not like I say anything incriminating on the phone anyway!"

Ok, mr brains, explain to me what they could "sell" to someone else that would affect me what so ever? What about my identity could they possibly do that hasn't been done? You talk as if you know me. What are they gonna do, give out my IP? Whoa, that's hard to get? They gonna give out my address, first name, last name? All you have to do is search my name and you get all of that, Trevor Hallgrimson, there you go. I do not fear what google, or any other search browser, does, because they do not do it on the intent of being malicious. There is NOTHING they could do that would EVER affect me outside of this machine. I'm done looking here, this is all based upon opinion, I'm not going to convince you, and you shouldn't even try that with me.
On a side note, yes, I hate hippies. Sit around and bitch but don't get a damn thing done.