Google to Tighten Privacy

By Sam Diaz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Google said yesterday that it plans to alter its privacy policy and strip certain identifying information from archived Internet searches.

The change, which is to go into effect by the end of the year, was welcomed by privacy advocates who have challenged Google to respect its users' privacy as it pursues its goal of organizing the world's information. The new policy will affect only searches conducted from the Google home page, not from Google Calendar or correspondence sent through Google's Web e-mail service, Gmail.

Under the new policy, Google will continue to store search terms, but after 18 to 24 months it will remove the Internet protocol addresses, which can help identify the location of computers that conducted searches. Google will also erase cookies, which are bits of information that stay on computer hard drives after searches are conducted and might help an observer learn more about other Web sites visited by the person using the computer at a given time.

"It's something we've been complaining about for years," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. "This is a big deal because they're saying, 'We really do value privacy.' This is definitely a step in the right direction."

Last year, a federal judge ordered Google to turn over Web-search records to the Justice Department, which was trying to prove that filtering software was failing to limit children's access to online pornography. The government later scaled back its request, asking instead for a sampling of random searches.

Google said it would continue to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, but Schwartz said the new policy would make it difficult for officials to piece together the information they have, making it a lot less useful.

Last summer, 36 million search queries by AOL members were posted on the Internet. The release allowed outsiders to determine who was conducting the searches and what they were searching for. Google said it does not make such raw search data public, nor does it include any other information that could identify the people conducting the searches.

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