EU Debates Internet Address Privacy

24 January 2008

BRUSSELS: The European Union's data privacy regulator says IP addresses, which identify computers on the internet, should generally be regarded as personal information.

Peter Scharr, who was speaking at a European Parliament hearing on data protection, is also compiling a report on how closely the privacy policies of search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft comply with EU privacy law.

He told a public session of the Civil Liberties Committee that when a person is identified by an IP address "then it has to be regarded as personal data."

His views are not shared by Google, which insists an IP address simply identifies the location of a computer, not the individual user.

The search giant does not accept that many people regularly use the same computer terminal and IP address, and instead chooses to cite the example of an internet café where a single computers can be used by many people.

Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer says: "There is no black and white answer: sometimes an IP address can be considered as personal data and sometimes not, it depends on the context, and which personal information it reveals."

Google has already bowed to pressure from the EU over the amount of time it stores user data.

However, it maintains it collects IP addresses to improve its search relevancy, by tailoring results according to the location of the IP address and the language used.

Data sourced from (India); additional content by WARC staff