Privacy Is The New Black

privacy.pngAfter a week where Ask launched AskEraser, a product that allows users to erase their search history, and Google announced a reduction in retained data time from 2038 to 18 months, more privacy initiatives are on their way.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will officially announce Monday “new policies and technologies to protect the privacy of users of its Live Search services” and Yahoo will announce plans for “a policy to make all of a user’s search data anonymous within 13 months of receiving it.”

The same report goes on to detail plans by Microsoft and Ask to start an “industrywide initiative” to establish standard practices for retaining users’ search histories.

The 4 major search engines with major privacy initiatives in the space of a week and attempts to establish industry wide practices. Privacy would appear to be the new black. But why, and why now?

The Wall Street Journal correctly notes that in part, growing concerns among consumers and privacy groups is driving the move towards improved user privacy. It then goes on to cynically suggest that with Microsoft and Ask it may be a case of the search minnows trying to find a marketing edge over the much larger Google and Yahoo.

A stronger reason lies with Government pressure. In Europe, Google is currently being probed by an Independent EU panel that is investigating possible breaches of EU Privacy Laws. Although the probe is currently focusing on Google, it’s not an unreasonable assumption to make that it could easily be extended to other search companies. The FTC probe into Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick may also consider privacy issues relating to the acquisition along with anti-trust considerations.

No matter the reasons, the steps towards improving user privacy are welcomed. Expect to hear a whole lot more about privacy in the coming weeks and months.

Update: Microsoft has released details of its privacy changes here and its corporate initiative with Ask here.

(image credit: NewSchool)