Privacy advocates have argued that if Google combines information about users' search history with DoubleClick data about which Web sites they visit, the company will be able to construct detailed user profiles.
As people debate whether that prospect would diminish privacy, one issue emerging as critical is whether IP addresses should be regarded as personal data. Google -- which stores search queries based on users' IP addresses -- argues that such records are not personally identifiable, in part because people don't always connect to the Web from the same location.
But, with many people connecting from a home computer, IP addresses clearly can be used to personally identify a good many users. Perhaps for that reason, Peter Scharr, who is heading an EU group studying online privacy, told a European Parliament hearing yesterday that an IP address "has to be regarded as personal data," according to an Associated Press report.
Federal Trade Commissioner member Pamela Harbour told the European authorities that opinion on this issue was split in America. "From a U.S. perspective, there is no consensus over this issue", she said, according to the AP.
At the hearing, some European authorities indicated that not only did storing such information potentially compromise privacy, but that it also might give Google an edge over its competition. "The reason you want to have the data is because it gives you a competitive advantage," Dutch parliamentarian Sophie in't Veld said, according to Reuters.