European Union Queries Google's Data Retention Policy

28 May 2007

BRUSSELS: Article 29, the internal working party that advises the European Union on privacy issues, has written to US-based Google inviting it to justify its policy of retaining information on individuals' online searches for periods of up to two years.

Chaired by Germany's Peter Schaar (pictured), the body is named after article twenty-nine of the EU Data Protection Directive. Its membership comprises the DP commissioners of all 27 member states.

The letter questions whether Google has "fulfilled all the necessary requirements" on data protection.

Among the data collected by the online Goliath are the search terms keyed by users, the address of the searcher's internet server and sometimes personal information culled from 'cookies' planted (often without the user's knowledge or permission) on an individual's computer.

Privacy campaigners fear that even this purportedly non-personal data can be used to identify individuals and create profiles of their political opinions, religious beliefs and sexual preferences.

Until this March, Google retained all such information indefinitely. But following mounting criticism, it volunteered to delete the data after two years.

A number of A29 members feel that two years is still unnecessarily long and the letter asks Google to justify retaining the data for that period.

Google's European privacy counsel Peter Fleischer claims the company needs to retain search statistics for that period, citing "security purposes".

He claims such information is a necessary precaution against hackers and other wrongdoers who attempt to abuse Google's advertising system.

Fleischer hit out at Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, neither of which, he avers, has declared a limit of any kind on the periods for which they retain data.

[After completing this article, the writer checked his own PC and found nineteen cookies planted by Google without his prior knowledge. Similarly irked readers might find the following link of interest.]

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff