Privacy advocates and regulators alike have criticized Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in the past regarding their data-retention policies. Experts debated whether "anonymizing" user search data is enough to protect users' privacy. (Most say it is not.) This week, in response to a request from the European Union's Article 29 Working Group, Microsoft agreed to rework its search engine so that it will eliminate collected user data after six months, according to The New York Times.
Made up of privacy regulators from each EU member country, the working group is only an advisory one, but the regulators have authority to levy fines and other sanctions in their respective countries. Moreover, the European Commission will soon have authority to implement EU-wide privacy regulations, and Microsoft VP and associate general counsel John Vassallo says the software behemoth's move is an effort to fend of such regulation. Vassallo says:
It is possible that the European Union will take a position to regulate this one way or the other. That would need a high level of responsibility from industry. I hope by taking this example we are showing the way. If that happens, we will see less risk of a new regulation.
The Times reports Google and Yahoo have not yet agreed to fully comply with the Article 29 Working Group's request. They have indicated they need to retain data longer to "refine" the way their search engines operate.