Google to make data anonymousFirst search engine to remove personal information

17 March 2007

Google is to anonymise personal data it collects when people use the internet search engine.

In the past, the firm has gathered and stored vast amounts of information about its users. Now it will anonymise that data after 18 to 24 months so the search cannot be traced back to an individual’s computer.

The move is designed to provide users with greater confidence that their privacy is being safeguarded, although authorities could still force the company to reveal the information or hold on to it for longer.

Computing Which? researcher Kim Gilmour welcomed the move. She said: ‘We have a right to privacy online as well as in the real world, but swathes of information about all aspects of our lives can be revealed by the searches we make.

‘We welcome Google's transparent and open approach to its privacy policy. Holding on to data for 18-24 months is arguably still a long time, but overall it's a positive initial step. Naturally, we'd expect Google to continue to adopt stringent measures when protecting our data.’

First for search engines

It’s the first time a major internet search engine has said how long it will hold on to information about a person's web searches.

Each time someone uses Google, the firm stores data about that query including the search term used and the unique address of the PC used to make the search.

Google is tightening privacy standards a year after it was involved in a battle with the US Justice Department over control of the user information that it had stored.

The US Justice Department subpoenaed the major search engines for lists of search requests made by their users to use as evidence in cases involving online pornography.

Google fought the request to protect its users' privacy but a federal judge ordered Google to turn over a small sampling of web addresses contained in its search index. The judge decided the company did not have to reveal the search requests sought by the government.

Google and its rivals all say they keep information about their users so they can learn more about them as they strive to deliver the most relevant responses.