Feeds

Google's IP anonymization fails to anonymize

Privacy theatre

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

In telling the world it will anonymize user IPs after only nine months, Google has appeased EU regulators. At least in part. But it looks like Mountain View's new policy is just another example of Google Privacy Theatre.

On Monday evening, when Google deputy counsel Nicole Wong trumpeted the new nine month policy to Silicon Valley's Churchill Club, she said the company was still mulling "the implementation details." But later in the week, the company outlined its plan with a few terse sentences tossed CNet's way.

After nine months, the company has confirmed with The Reg, Google will "change some of the bits" in the user IPs stored in its server logs. But as the plan stands now, it will leave cookie data alone.

This means the missing bits are easily retrieved.

More than a year ago, the company said it would "anonymize" its server logs after eighteen months. And sometime between March and July, it actually put this plan into action. (The company won't get more specific on dates, perhaps because it originally told the world the new policy would arrive in March).

In this case, anonymize meant "change some of the bits in the IP address in the logs as well as change the cookie information." Google now says it erases exactly eight bits from a user's IP, but it has yet to explain what it actually does to the cookie data. Whatever it's doing, it assures regulators that this eighteen month policy is "a significant addition to protecting user privacy."

Google stresses that its new nine month policy is still very much in the works. "I want to clarify that we are still working out the technical details," a company spokeswoman told us. But it looks like Google will erase fewer than eight IP bits under the nine month plan - without touching cookie info.

"After nine months, we will change some of the bits in the IP address in the logs," the company says. "After 18 months we remove the last eight bits in the IP address and change the cookie information...It is difficult to guarantee complete anonymization, but we believe these changes will make it very unlikely users could be identified."

You can debate whether erasing a few bits actually anonymizes an IP address. But as CNet points out, if your cookie data remains intact, restoring the full IP address is trivial. Google may erase some IP bits on your nine-month-old search queries, but those bits will remain intact on your newer queries - and both sets of queries will carry the same cookie info.

Google argues that users can always delete their cookies. "We have focused on IP addresses, because we recognize that users cannot control IP addresses in logs," the company says. "On the other hand, users can control their cookies.

"When a user clears cookies, s/he will effectively break any link between the cleared cookie and our raw IP logs once those logs hit the 9-month anonymization point. Moreover, we are still continuing to focus on ways to help users exert better controls over their cookies."

Of course, most people don't even know what a cookie is. And if you don't clear Google cookies on your own, they expire only if you die or go to prison. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Preview redux: Microsoft ships new Windows 10 build with 7,000 changes
Latest bleeding-edge bits borrow Action Center from Windows Phone
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
Chrome 38's new HTML tag support makes fatties FIT and SKINNIER
First browser to protect networks' bandwith using official spec
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.