Google resists further regulation on retention of search query data
Search engine Google does not want to delete its search query data after six months and is resisting demands from the European Commission's data protection working party to do so. In a contribution to his company's Public Policy blog, Google's data protection manager Peter Fleischer insists that data retention is necessary to maintain the quality of search results and service for users and to improve security and system integrity. He says it is unfortunate that this requirement is often ignored in the debate surrounding search engine data protection.
Fleischer is repeating the same arguments that Google made last summer when EU data protection chiefs criticised Google's data retention policies. At that time Google limited data retention to eighteen months and also restricted the validity of cookies.
The Article 29 Working Party, a committee of EU data protection chiefs, has now concluded (PDF file) that there is no reason to keep search engine queries for any longer than six months. Search engine operators who wish to keep data for longer than this should, in the view of the Working Party, explain exactly why they need to do so. In any event, every search engine should include in its product easily accessible information about its data retention policy.
The EU data protection chiefs consider an individual's search history to be personal data if the individual to which it relates is identifiable. Even though most IP addresses are allocated dynamically and therefore cannot be traced back directly to their user, identification by third parties is possible. Google's view is that whether IP addresses qualify for full data protection depends on how the data is used.