The letter also raises concerns about the cookie that Google stores on the computers of visitors who do not use their browser settings to block these small text files that allow Google to recognise a return visit from a particular computer.
The letter states:
Concerning the 'google cookie', the lifetime of this cookie, which has a validity of approximately 30 years, is disproportionate with respect to the purpose of the data processing which is performed and goes beyond what seems to be 'strictly necessary' for the provision of the service, within the meaning of Article 5(3) of the ePrivacy Directive 2002/58/EC.
The Working Party suggests that Google's policy "can be further improved" to ensure data protection compliance. It requests clarification on the extent to which the anonymised data still contain "significant information" about the user and "whether it is reversible (e.g. does Google have any means of reversing the anonymisation)."
Peter Fleischer has since said that Google is "committed to engaging in a constructive dialogue with privacy stakeholders," including the Working Party, on how to improve its privacy practices.
"We believe it's an important part of our commitment to respect user privacy while balancing a number of important factors, such as maintaining security and preventing fraud and abuse," he said in a statement.
Five days before the letter was sent to Google, Fleischer had discussed Google's reasons for remembering information about searches in Google's official blog.
He cited and explained three reasons: to improve the quality of search services; to maintain security and prevent fraud and abuse; and to comply with legal obligations to retain data.
Explaining the last of these points, Fleischer wrote that "Google may be subject to the EU's Data Retention Directive".
This Directive is not yet in force, but it will require ISPs and telcos to retain certain traffic and location data for up to 24 months. Google's email and internet telephony services are likely to be caught by the Directive, though possibly not before 2009. The Directive applies only to data that are generated or processed by providers of "publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks". However, even if this were interpreted so widely as to catch Google's search service, it seems unlikely that the categories of data to be retained, as defined in the Directive, could extend to the content of a search query.
The letter from the Article 29 Working Party does not refer to Fleischer's blog posting.
Meanwhile, Google could also face a privacy probe in the US, where it has agreed to buy online advertising company DoubleClick for $3.1bn. The company said that consumer regulator the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an investigation into the purchase that focuses on the privacy rights of its users.
Online advertising company DoubleClick collects a large amount of information about users' web surfing habits. Google does too, prompting questions from the FTC about how the merged firm will treat the data it collects.
The FTC action is an antitrust review, which will focus primarily on competition questions. "We are confident that upon further review the FTC will conclude that this acquisition poses no risk to competition and should be approved," said Don Harrison, senior corporate counsel at Google.
Privacy advocacy groups in the US have asked the FTC to question Google over its data collection and storage, while competitors such as Microsoft are said to have asked the body to investigate the deal on competition grounds.
Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com
OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Why does google remember information about searches?
Read that Google blog entry:
"Improve our services: Google’s spell checking software automatically looks at your query and checks to see if you are using the most common version of a word’s spelling."
Since when has language been person specific? Individual people don't have their own individual languages!
"Maintain security and prevent fraud and abuse..It is standard among Internet companies to retain server logs with IP addresses as one of an array of tools to protect the system from security attacks."
For 18 months? If you haven't detected an attack after 18 months then you're not complying with the 'Data protection laws around the world that require Internet companies to maintain adequate security measures to protect the personal data of their users.' as you claim. It's double talk.
"Comply with legal obligations to retain data: Search companies like Google are also subject to laws that sometimes conflict with data protection regulations, like data retention for law enforcement purposes. For example, Google may be subject to the EU Data Retention Directive, which was passed last year, in the wake of the Madrid and London terrorist bombings, to help law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of “serious crime”."
There's no law to retain search data the EU proposal DOES NOT SAY ANY SUCH THING YOU LYING SACK OF S***, EU Parliament specifically put safeguards in exactly against that! There is however a law (and also a fundamental right) that says you can't keep data longer than necessary. I'm staggered by the sliminess of that reply, it's to attempt to suggest that if the privacy law is enforced against them then terrorists will kill your babies. Cheney, is that you?
First we had 'don't be evil', then we had 'well maybe a little evil', now to 'well the other guy is totally evil, so relatively speaking we're ok', soon they'll be full on selling search data on world leaders to the Russian Mafia to fund their crack habit.