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Google proposes 'crumbled cookies' in privacy pledge

Willing to break up harvested user information

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Google has proposed breaking up the information gathered on users of its services in order to better preserve their privacy. The company told the US Senate that it was investigating the measure after consultation with privacy groups.

The company made the claim in a submission to the Senate's investigation of its proposed $3.1bn acquisition of online advertising giant DoubleClick. The Senate is probing the deal over widely-held fears that it would create an online advertising monopoly, and that the huge amount of information held by the combined company could lead to privacy breaches.

Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond made a written submission to the Senate outlining some of the action the company proposed to take to alleviate privacy fears.

One proposal, according to Reuters news agency, was for a 'crumbled cookie', which would be a way of storing personal information separately without identifying it all as coming from one person or machine.

"We have consulted with numerous privacy, consumer and industry groups in developing these ideas and have endeavoured to be responsive to their concerns," he wrote in his submission, according to Reuters.

After the hearing, at which he also gave oral evidence, Drummond told reporters that he thought it was unlikely that the Government would impose any conditions or controls on the deal.

Microsoft also appeared at the hearing, and General Counsel Brad Smith told Senators that the deal would put Google in control of 80 per cent of the market for both text and banner adverts on the internet.

Google's Drummond countered with the argument that if the market were a monopoly, Microsoft itself would not have paid $6bn for DoubleClick competitor aQuantive, a purchase the company announced in May this year.

Google said at the hearing that it made a priority of privacy, but the company has been in the headlines this week over an alleged security breach in its Gmail internet email service. A security researcher called Petko Petkov said that he had found a way to hack the Gmail system and divert incoming emails to another mail account.

Google's privacy policies have been under fire in recent months. It announced earlier this year that it would delete identifying information connecting people to their Google internet searches after 18 to 24 months.

That provoked an outcry from users and privacy activists who had not been aware that such logs had been kept indefinitely. The company reduced the term to 18 months but still faces opposition from privacy activists who believe that the data should not be kept.

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