Yahoo! expands search engine data retention period from 90 days to 18 months

Out-Law News | 21 Apr 2011 | 10:51 am | 2 min. read

Yahoo! will retain information on what its users have looked for on its search engine for at least a year and a half, it has announced.

The company's decision, which it says will come into effect in July, is a marked shift from the 90-day storage period it currently operates.

Yahoo! announced the change on its policy blog.

"Over the last 3 years, the way we and other companies offer services online and the way consumers experience the Internet has changed dramatically. So, we will keep our log file data longer than we have been – offering consumers a more robust individualized experience – while we continue our innovation in the areas of transparency and choice to protect privacy," Anne Toth, chief trust officer at Yahoo! said.

"We will hold raw search log files for 18 months and we will be closely examining what the right policy and time frame should be for other log file data," Toth said.

Yahoo! said it will notify its users over the next four to six weeks and implement the change 30 days after it has completed this process.

Web servers store files that list every click requesting the server to download a webpage. In Europe data protection laws exist to protect that information being used to identify people and their movements online.

The Article 29 Working Party, which is made up of the data protection watchdogs in the EU's 27 member countries, has said that search engines should delete personal data about their users after six months. The European Commission has backed that view.

The Working Party met with four search engines, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Ixquick in 2009 to address data retention concerns. Near that time Yahoo! announced it was dropping the time it held personal data obtained in its search engine to 90 days, but now says that it is now moving to a longer period of retention.

"Over the past several years it’s clear that the Internet has changed, our business has changed, and the competitive landscape has changed.  We have been re-evaluating our log file data retention policy in light of these changes and as a result of this review we are moving to align our log file data retention policy closer to the competitive norm across the industry," Yahoo! said.

In January last year Microsoft agreed to reduce the time that it retains user data on its Bing search engine to six months following pressure from the European Commission.

In November the Commission announced proposals to revise the EU's Data Protection Directive to address some of the internet-related issues that arise in the use of personal data.

The proposals include giving people more control of their personal data online, and expanding the role of the Article 29 Working Party to give it more say in how the Directive is applied by EU countries in national law.

Last year EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said that the Commission was also keen on encouraging 'privacy by design' in new services.

"We need a change of approach: businesses must use their power of innovation to improve the protection of privacy and personal data from the very beginning of the development cycle. Privacy by Design will lead to better protection for individuals, as well as to trust and confidence in new services and products that will in turn have a positive impact on the economy," Reding said.

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