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MS: We'll slash search data retention if big boys play ball

Anonymise after six months...

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Microsoft will only agree to European demands to slash the time it keeps online search query data if Google and Yahoo! adopt the same methods.

The software giant said yesterday it supports the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines for anonymisation on the web, before adding that such rules can only be adopted if they are introduced industry-wide.

The Article 29 Working Party is a group of European Union bureaucrats who have been pushing to get search engine firm’s to purge their user records after six months.

But, while MS claims to agree in principle with such a move, the company is refusing to budge until its rivals cut back the amount of time they keep private data.

Microsoft also pointed out that it only holds about two per cent of the online search market in Europe, so it doesn’t really have the muscle to go it alone with privacy web standards.

Here’s a statement from Redmond chief strategist Peter Cullen in which he pleads with the big boys to play nice.

[I]t is imperative that all search companies adopt the same standard to better protect people's privacy. We agree with the Article 29 Working Party's call for a common industry standard for search data anonymisation methods and timeframes to help protect people's privacy.

We've evaluated the multiple uses of search data and believe that we can, in time, move to a six month timeframe while retaining our strong method of anonymisation.

However, we don't believe that Microsoft moving alone will offer the level of consumer protection desired by the Working Party. While we're certainly working to grow our market share, today Microsoft has only two per cent of the search market in Europe and a small share globally.

We can't do it alone — all search companies must embrace high privacy standards to provide greater protection for European consumers.

Google has long argued that keeping the data meant it could offer improved services and cope better with combating fraud and spam.

However, in September this year Google agreed to half the amount of time it retains IP addresses and user data garnered from search query logs.

The internet kingpin said it would anonymise IP addresses on its server logs after nine months “to address regulatory concerns to take another step to improve privacy for our users”.

But Mountain View later admitted to El Reg that it will only "change some of the bits" in the user IPs stored in its server logs. So as the plan stands now, it will leave cookie data alone. ®

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