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Search Engines a Privacy Threat?

July 1, 2008

online data submissionGovernment authorities in the European Union are considering search engine data retention as a threat to privacy. As a result, the European Union is considering placing limits on the retention of data that search engines can maintain and hold.

A European commission report stated, “Search engine providers must delete or irreversibly anonymise personal data once they no longer serve the specified and legitimate purpose they were collected for.”

The EU report argues that no reason exists for search engines to hold information for more than six months at the most. Search engines collect information from every search documenting the service provider and the ip address. The search history can be tracked using a parcel of text called a ‘cookie’ and can be combined with other data from third parties. In theory, this allows users to be tracked, permitting a more accurate identification of the user than the ip address. The potential for spying and clandestine use of data is the primary concern.

Google argues that keeping search data for 18 months prevents fraud and allows for better search engine results. The U.S. based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit lobbyist group, urged the European Parliament to protect the privacy of search histories. The general opinion is that laws in the European Union can direct the international policy of privacy on the internet.

Apparently, the United States has declined to become involved in restricting search engine data. Likely, the latest move of the U.S. federal government to increase monitoring of private data has everything to do with resistance to anonymise personal data online. In a move to secure civil liberties interests, the Center has moved to appeal to other global bodies with civil liberties concerns as one approach to increase security for private users on the internet.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is funded by the likes of the Bauman Family Foundation, the C.S. Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Scherman Foundation and the Open Society Institute and is internationally affiliated.

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