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Yahoo: Greater Privacy for Our Online Lives

In an unprecedented move to address the growing concerns of privacy advocates, Yahoo announced that they will be reducing the length of time they...

Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs on December 18, 2008. @scottlachut

In an unprecedented move to address the growing concerns of privacy advocates, Yahoo announced that they will be reducing the length of time they retain personally identifiable search records from 13 months to 90 days.  The company’s two biggest rivals, Google and Microsoft, currently keep this information for 9 months and 18 months respectively.  Whether or not this action will force the hands of these competitors, however, remains to be seen. 

Still, Yahoo thinks this maneuver will accomplish two things – removing them from the heated discussion surrounding these privacy issues and handing them a clear advantage amongst users that wish to ensure greater online anonymity. 

Under the new policy, Yahoo will delete the last eight bits of the Internet Protocol, or I.P., address associated with a search query after 90 days. I.P. addresses are digital tags that can identify a specific computer. Yahoo will also hide cookie data related to each search log and strip out any personally identifiable information, like a name, phone number, address or Social Security number, from the query itself.

The rationale given by search engine companies for saving this data in the past has always been that it was the most effective way to optimize targeted ads and provide relevant searches for their users, publishers and advertisers but Yahoo believes that this is no longer the case.

Though a step in the right direction, some advocates feel that Yahoo’s decision to remove only part of the IP address, doesn’t offer any real guarantee that these records will no longer be traceable.  Echoing this criticism, Microsoft has stated that they feel the methods of anonymization are ultimately more important than the timeframe itself.

We’ll be curious to see if and how this measure changes the playing field as we move into the year ahead. 

NY Times: Yahoo Limits Retention of Search Data

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Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs

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Scott Lachut is PSFK Labs' Director of Consulting, working with a team of global researchers to provide leading companies with insights on the trends and innovation that are shaping the marketplace from both a consumer and business standpoint. His previous jobs resemble multiple chapters from Studs Terkel's "Working." Away from the computer his interests skew towards cooking and lawn games.

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