A Move Toward More Privacy Online

07 Gen A Move Toward More Privacy Online

NewsFactor Network, CA, January 5, 2009
Yahoo has announced that it will no longer hold some personally identifiable search information for more than 90 days. The company is hoping that the new policy will give it a competitive advantage with users who care about privacy. It also is an encouraging development for the cause of Internet privacy. Many users do not realize that search engines hold onto the words that they type, and the addresses of Web sites that they visit — often in ways that can be traced back to specific users. If you use Google, Yahoo or Microsoft search engines to find out more about cancer drugs, drug addiction or radical politics, the company may keep that information. And it may turn the data  over to the government if presented with a valid subpoena. Privacy advocates have long objected to these policies. In many cases, they argue, users have no idea that the information is being kept. Some of these advocates have been pushing, in the U.S. Congress, for Internet privacy laws that would limit data retention. Yahoo has decided to move in a pro-privacy direction on its own. Until now, its policy was to hold onto search data in personally identifiable ways for 13 months. The 90-day limit that it is adopting is considerably better than Google’s, which holds onto personally identifiable search data for nine months, or Microsoft’s, which holds data for even longer. Some privacy advocates object to the way in which Yahoo intends to make the data anonymous. The company says that it will remove the last eight bits of a user’s Internet Protocol, or IP, address — a number that can often be traced to a specific computer — and take other steps to scrub identifiable data. Critics argue that even so, it may still be possible to trace the data back to particular users. Yahoo says the steps it takes will be effective. Internet users should be able to control how much of their personal data companies keep. Yahoo’s announcement is a welcome step in the direction of giving consumers more of that control.