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15 September 2008, 13:44

Google promises to be "more anonymous", but only partly

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Google has announced in an open letter that it will anonymise its log files earlier. It will now store the complete IP addresses of all search queries for only nine instead of 18 months, as hitherto. Google says it has to store this information in order, on the one hand, to direct advertising at the correct target groups and on the other, to prevent misuse of the search engine and protect Google's users.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, an independent advisory group of the European Union in matters of data protection, had called for these data to be held for a maximum of six months and then to be completely deleted. Google's nine-month retention period is a concession to this demand, but critics complain that the precise extent of this anonymisation has not yet been defined. The main dispute is over the logging of the complete IP addresses of users, through which any Google user, which effectively means virtually any internet user, can be traced over a period of many months. Google has said it will "change some bits of the IP addresses after nine months" – which, however, means that any search query can still be traced to a group of not more than 255 internet users, even after the expiry of the time limit.


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