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Google has agreed to limit how long it keeps users’ search records after facing criticisms from European legislators and liberties advocates in recent weeks. A working party of data privacy officials that advises the European Union last month sent a letter to Google demanding it justify its policy of recording users’ IP addresses against search terms for up to two years, while London-based Privacy International this weekend ranked Google bottom out of 23 leading internet properties for privacy concerns. Now Google’s privacy general counsel Peter Fleischer has agreed to cut the time limit in a written response to the EU’s working party ahead of its next meeting this month: “After considering the working party’s concerns, we are announcing a new policy: to anonymize our search server logs after 18 months, rather than the previously established period of 18 to 24 months.” (see full response). In a blog post, Fleischer rejected any further shrinkage.
The two-year policy was introduced in March, clarifying Google’s previously unlimited data retention policy in an attempt to placate regulators. The company feels like it is between a rock and a hard place, with the U.S. requiring it to hold on to user data for longer periods in keeping with corporate and anti-terrorist law, but European nations claiming different time limits, it says. (Norway is conducting its own investigation in to the matter.) That’s why it broke ranks from the likes of Amazon, MySpace and Microsoft when it disclosed its policy in March. Amid this backdrop are concerns over how it will use data from the DoubleClick acquisition. Google will now have to see whether 18 months is enough to assuage EU concerns.