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Yahoo Pledges to Forget You Sooner

Yahoo Pledges to Forget You Sooner

Yahoo will now purge personally identifiable user data after 90 days, undercutting the retention policies of its rivals Microsoft and Yahoo. Though privacy advocates generally call the decision a step in the right direction, most users will notice little change in the usability of Yahoo as the result of the privacy move.

By Walaika Haskins
12/17/08 2:29 PM PT

Yahoo announced Wednesday that it is enacting a new global data retention policy. In most instances, the Internet search engine and portal will now anonymize user log data within 90 days. After a three-month time period has elapsed, Yahoo will scrub out any data -- such as IP addresses, cookies and other information -- that would potentially enable someone to identify a given user.

The change shaves 10 months off of Yahoo's previous policy and expands the amount of data on users' online behavior that will be anonymized, including information on their Internet searches.

"In our world of customized online services, responsible use of data is critical to establishing and maintaining user trust. We know that our users expect relevant and compelling content and advertising when they visit Yahoo, but they also want assurances that we are focused on protecting their privacy," said Anne Toth, Yahoo's Vice President of Policy and Head of Privacy.

Info Exchange

Google has a 9-month data retention policy -- lowered several months ago from 18 months -- and will anonymize IP addresses after that point. Microsoft retains user data for a year and a half but said last week that it would be open to scaling that down to six months as an industry standard.

"Privacy concerns continue to be a challenge to the use of data to maximize ad yields, and Yahoo has as much a stake as anyone in assuring the continuation of self-regulation policies and keeping advocacy groups at bay," Andrew Frank, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

The change is more significant as a statement of public relations than it is in terms of any real differences detectable by users, according to Frank.

While users will not notice a difference as they use Yahoo's products and services, the change has been welcomed by electronic privacy advocates.

"It's always good to see search companies competing to provide more privacy to their users, and with this move to anonymize search data after 90 days compared to Google's nine months, Yahoo has sent a serious shot across Google's bow," said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"However, we can't judge the true privacy impact of this change until we know exactly what steps Yahoo will be taking to anonymize the data. The devil's in the details, and if Yahoo's anonymization process isn't robust enough, this new logging policy may end up being more privacy PR than privacy protection," he told TechNewsWorld.

Policy of One

Regulators in Europe and Washington continue to urge Internet companies to limit the length of time during which they keep identifiable user data. Yahoo's decision may not stretch to the rest of the industry, said John Barrett, director of research at Parks Associates.

"I don't think most consumers care about this stuff. There is a core group, a very small percentage of the market that understands what all that is and cares about it. That group is an important constituency, and for them it is probably something of note. But for the majority of the market, I don't think this is something they will go, 'Oh, now I feel more comfortable using Yahoo because of some data retention policy they've never heard of before,'" he told TechNewsWorld.

Yahoo, he continued, is probably just trying to keep up with and set best practice policies in the industry. However, without greater demand from a large number of users, Barrett said he does not think the 90-day policy will be adopted by the industry as a whole.

"I'm skeptical that you're going to see much of a spillover," he stated.

The change may add a "little bit of pressure," said Gartner's Frank, but it will not establish Yahoo as a clear trend-setter, he added.


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