MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Privacy activists have long cast Google in the role of Big Brother [Orwell's all-seeing tyrant; not the crass 'reality' TV show], voicing concern at the search titan's retention of data that can identify individuals and profile their political opinions, religious beliefs and sexual inclinations.

Such data is wide open to misuse, charge US and European privacy campaigners, who fear it could be requested or even commandeered by government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The data retained by Google [and presumably other search engines] includes the search term used, the address of the internet server and, in some instances, personal information capured by cookies planted on a searcher's computer.

In the wake of a lengthy campaign against its retention policy, Google has now agreed to limit to two years the period for which it holds such data.

However, anxious it should not appear to have caved-in to activist pressure, Google's Paris-based European privacy counsel Peter Fleischer portrays the change as compliance with new European data retention law.

But as observers point out, the law requires only that such data is held for two years - not that it be deleted after that period.

Game and set to the privacy activists - although Google has yet to lose the match.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff