Report: EU To Curb Search Engines

European authorities are reportedly poised to impose new limits on how long search engines can retain data tying users to search queries.

The Article 29 Working Party, charged with enforcing Europe's tough privacy laws, will next week issue new guidelines, the Financial Times reported. Google and Microsoft say they keep data linking searches to IP addresses for 18 months, while Yahoo has said it will only retain such data for 13 months.

"For me personally, it still seems rather long, and I could imagine I am not alone," said Peter Schaar, chairman of the Article 29 Working Party, according to the Financial Times.

Some U.S. advocates welcomed the news. "The bottom line is that search companies keep information," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Last month, in testimony before the European Parliament, Rotenberg asked for an order directing Google to stop storing IP addresses. "The search engine functionality would not be impaired if a search engine did not store any user information at all," Rotenberg stated in recommendations submitted to the Parliament.

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Google and other search companies have said they use information in the IP logs to improve their search results and also to police click fraud.

A Google spokesperson said the company is "committed to collaborating with privacy advocates, consumer protection groups and regulators, including the Article 29 Working Party, to work together to explore ways to improve privacy online for all users."

Google's storage of IP addresses accounts for one reason why privacy advocates oppose the company's $3.1 buyout of DoubleClick. The advocates worry that the company will tie its information about users' search to DoubleClick's information about people's Web-surfing behavior to compile extremely detailed profiles.

The FTC late last year proposed guidelines for behavioral targeting techniques that include the recommendation that companies give Web users the opportunity to opt-out of being tracked online via cookies. The agency Tuesday extended the comment period for those guidelines until April 11.

This week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau will release its own suggested guidelines. Unlike the FTC, the IAB will not propose that all companies using cookies to track people's Web activity inform them of how to opt-out.

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