Google On the Run From the Privacy Cops

Amid growing scrutiny from government regulators in the U.S and Europe, Google is amending its privacy practices and keeping the IP addresses of consumers who do searches on Google for a shorter period of time. The dominant search engine will keep server log data for only nine months now instead of 18 (which itself was a reduction put in place last year from an indefinite retention period). It will also start anonymizing the data it collects from its Google Suggest feature within 24 hours. (This is a growing trend—last month, Google made it easier to opt out of ad tracking). As Google grows bigger and reaches deeper into the online lives of nearly everybody who uses the Web, concerns about whether it is becoming Big Brother will also increase.

Google (and the rest of the Internet industry) is policing itself in the hopes of staving off formal government encroachment into its business practices. The last thing Google wants is for the government to start telling it what its data retention policies should be. But it does so reluctantly. In the blog post explaining the new privacy policy, Google says:

While we’re glad that this will bring some additional improvement in privacy, we’re also concerned about the potential loss of security, quality, and innovation that may result from having less data. As the period prior to anonymization gets shorter, the added privacy benefits are less significant and the utility lost from the data grows. So, it’s difficult to find the perfect equilibrium between privacy on the one hand, and other factors, such as innovation and security, on the other.

Google’s growing dominance is raising not only privacy concerns, but also anti-trust concerns. The WSJ reported yesterday that the Department of Justice is considering taking antitrust action against Google in relation to its proposed search advertising deal with Yahoo. The DOJ has “secretly hired” former Walt Disney vice chairman Sanford Litvack, who once headed up antitrust division at the DOJ, to lead any eventual court challenge.

Good thing there is an escape clause in the Yahoo deal that lets Google out of it to avoid antitrust litigation.

(Photo by Jon Hurd).