Yahoo! mocks Google Privacy Theatre
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. ®
Be sure to wash your hands after surfing
Think about how many times a day you click to watch a YouTube video, no matter which site it's on. It might be Obama's weekly chat at change.gov, or even Consumer Watchdog's YouTube video on Chrome's privacy problems. Before you even click to watch the video, you collected several YouTube cookies. And after you click to watch, about ten seconds into the video, Google reads your universal google.com cookie. This is the one with the globally-unique ID. It used expire in 2038, but now it pretends to expire in two years. However, every time you visit any Google site, it gets pushed two years ahead, which means it expires when your hard disk is replaced.
If you don't already have a Google cookie, you get a new one with a new ID. If you have one already, it reads the old cookie. Put your PC on a packet scanner and click on a YouTube video. The GET request to google.com, which apparently is done from the embedded Flash code from YouTube, includes the site you are on, as well as the video you are watching.
This information is available to the U.S. government without a court order. It's called a "National Security Letter" and when Google gets one, it comes with a gag order. How many other governments around the world have similar laws?
Delete your Google cookies and your YouTube cookies when you exit your browser. It's common-sense hygiene - the equivalent of washing your hands after you visit a dirty bathroom at a gas station.
re: Firefox's anti-phishing and Google
"are Google linking my account ID with what what sites I'm surfing?"
You bet they are. Google's (stated) mission is to know everything about everything and their slightly-less stated rationale is to allow them to sell eyeballs to as many advertisers as is humanly possible for as high a price as they can get. As has been pointed out in these parts previously, when all's said and done, they're the world's biggest small-ads platform. Everything else is just gravy, allowing them to sell more, better-targetted ads.
Ha! Hahah! ROTFLMAO...
Lemme see: respect the users' privacy or -- ooh, a Big Sack O' Cash. Which way would *you* think they'd go? (not to mention that Google, as a publicly traded company, has a fiduciary responsibility to place the interests of the shareholders before those of the users).
I'd like to make a donation to scroogle ...
... but then they'd know who I am!