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IP Addresses Are Personal Data, E.U. Regulator Says

Peter Scharr, Germany's data-protection chief, heads a panel on Internet privacy.
Peter Scharr, Germany's data-protection chief, heads a panel on Internet privacy. (By Roberto Pfeil -- Associated Press)

The way Google stores IP addresses meant that one address forms part of a crowd, giving valuable information on general trends without infringing on an individual's privacy, he said.

Google says it needs to store search queries and gather information on online activity to improve its search results and to provide advertisers with correct billing information that shows that genuine users are clicking on online ads.

Internet "click fraud" can be tracked by showing that the same IP address is jumping repeatedly to the same ad. Advertisers pay for each time a different person views the ad, so dozens of views by the same person can rack up costs without giving the company the publicity it wanted.

Microsoft does not record the IP address that identifies an individual computer when it logs search terms. Its Internet strategy relies on users logging into the Passport network that is linked to its popular Hotmail and Messenger services.

The company's European Internet policy director, Thomas Myrup Kristensen, described the move as part of Microsoft's commitment to privacy. "In terms of the impact on user privacy, complete and irreversible anonymity is the most important point here -- more impactful than whether the data is retained for 13 versus 18 versus 24 months," he said.

Neither of the search engines received a pat on the back from Spain's data protection regulator, Artemi Rallo Lombarte, who criticized them for not trying to make their privacy policies accessible to normal people.

Their privacy policies "could very well be considered virtual or fictional . . . because search engines do not sufficiently emphasize their own privacy policies on their home pages, nor are they accessible to users," he said, describing the policies as "complex and unintelligible to users."

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