Feeds

Yahoo! mocks Google Privacy Theatre

Less-nonsensical anonymization

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Analysis The privacy gap between Yahoo! and Google is greater than you think. It's not just that Yahoo! will anonymize user search data 6 months before Google anonymizes user search data. It's that Yahoo! anonymization is less nonsensical than Google anonymization.

Today, as we dutifully reported, Yahoo! said it would anonymize user search data within a mere 90 days (with exceptions for fraud, security, and legal obligations). It even agreed to extend this unprecedented policy to page views, page clicks, ad views, and ad clicks.

Of course, anonymization is a meaningless word. But it would seem that Yahoo!'s use of the term isn't nearly as misleading as Google's. When Yahoo! says it will anonymize log data, it intends to:

  • Delete the final octet of the user's IP address
  • Run the user's Yahoo! ID through a one-way secret hash and delete the last 50 per cent of the hashed identifier
  • Run the user's cookie identifiers through a one-way secret hash
  • Filter all personally identifiable information - such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and non-popular names - from search queries

In its lust for targeted advertising and who knows what else, Yahoo! has stopped short of true anonymization: deleting IPs, IDs, and cookie info entirely. Recreating this data isn't beyond the realm of possibility. But at Google, recreation is trivial.

The Mountain View Chocolate Factory says it will - at some unspecified point in the future - anonymize user data after nine months. But it takes some additional liberties with the word "anonymize".

With its nine-month anonymiztion, Google intends to "change some of the bits" in the user IPs stored on its servers. But that's it. The plan would leave cookie data alone.

And that means IPs are easily restored.

Google may erase certain IP bits on your nine-month-old search queries, but those bits will remain intact on newer queries - and both sets of queries will carry the same cookie info. Recovering the missing bits on older data is one-step process.

After 18 months, Google does alter cookie data - in some unspecified way. And the company argues that users have the power to scrub their own cookies before then. "We have focused on IP addresses, because we recognize that users cannot control IP addresses in logs," the company has told us. "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 users don't even know what a cookie is.

Plus, Google has not said it will disassociate search queries from your Google ID - required for using Google services such as Gmail or Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

In September, Google also said it might tweak its nine-month policies. But today, in the email, the ad broker provided no update. At the moment, it's unclear when Google will even begin its nine-month IP doctoring.

But the company wants you to know it takes privacy very seriously. "We aim to strike the appropriate balance between protecting our users' privacy and offering them benefits of data retention, such as better security measures and new innovations," it said.

It did not mention advertising.

Yes, Yahoo! is balancing as well. But the wounded web portal has gone significantly further than Google to protect its users from hacks, subpoenas, and, yes, national security letters. The rub is that Yahoo! handles about 20 per cent of US search traffic - and Google commands 70. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.