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Microsoft to give search users more privacy

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Software giant calls on rivals Yahoo and Google to follow suit.

Microsoft Corp. Tuesday put pressure on Google Inc. in the race to provide more consumer privacy, saying it will eliminate most consumers’ search data after six months regardless of what competitors do.

The company will “delete the entire Internet Protocol address associated with search queries at six months rather than at 18 months,” it said in a blog.

The move to grant online users more privacy comes after intense negotiations with European data privacy regulators who have been pushing for all search engines to limit the time they hold personally identifiable search data to six months since early 2008.

Microsoft believes that providing users better privacy protection will make the search engine “more attractive” to the customer, said John Vassallo, Microsoft vice-president of EU-affairs.

Microsoft’s latest search engine Bing, with 3.3% of the global search market, lags far behind market leader Google Inc.’s engine which holds some 85% market share globally according to online marketing company Net Applications.

Google currently stores Internet protocol addresses which can be used to identify the computer used for searches for 9 months, and deletes all cookies after 18 months.

Although most search engines have reduced the time they hold on to search logs significantly since requests to do so by the European working group comprising of all 27 national privacy officials, Microsoft’s Vasallo said that there still remained a possibility that the European Union might want to regulate online privacy requirements.

Microsoft had earlier said that it was waiting for the industry to move together to reduce the time search queries are held to six months, but it said Tuesday it will now act unilaterally and called on rivals to follow suit.

Google maintains that it needs to keep queries for nine-months in order to improve search quality and to fight online fraud, such as companies artificially increasing the cost of online advertising, known as click fraud.

“Data from our search queries represents a crucial arm in our battle to protect the security of our services against hacks and fraud. It also represents a critical element allowing us to help users by innovating and improving the quality of our searches,” Google said in a statement.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is convinced it can “manage the search data” within the six-month time frame both in terms of improving the online search and fighting fraud, Vasallo said.

Yahoo! Inc. with around 6.3% of the global search market cut its data retention to three months from 13 months in late 2008.

Microsoft said it will take the company 12 to 18 months to implement the new data privacy provision due to technical demands that would have to be figured out first.

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has also recommended that search data be made anonymous after six months.

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