Google promises EU better privacy rules

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Google Inc. said Tuesday it will further cut the amount of time it stores data about users' search requests, to meet European privacy demands.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy adviser, said the company will reduce the time it stores search information from 18 months to nine. Google introduced an 18-month limit in 2007.

The change, which applies to Google's search Web sites worldwide, "is a significant improvement in privacy terms and it puts us ahead of the rest of the industry," Fleischer told reporters in a conference call.

Fleischer also announced that additional changes are being made to Google's "Suggest" application, which helps users along by recommending search terms based on what they've already typed. He said Google logs 2 percent of data collected on such searches, but said such records now will all be erased after a 24-hour period, starting this month.

The announcements were meant to appease EU data protection officers who have questioned the need for search engines to keep records of their users' behavior. However, in a separate report submitted to the EU's group of national data privacy officers explaining the changes, Google said the new rules would "have costs" for Google's ability to improve its services by delivering more relevant search results and advertisements.

Officials at the European Commission had no immediate reaction to the announcement.

Google had long argued that its retention period complied with EU data privacy rules, but it moved in 2007 to limit data logged from searches to 18 months. Competitors Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have also limited the time they retain such data. Microsoft keeps search data for 18 months and Yahoo for 13 months.

Peter Hustinx, the EU's top data protection supervisor, has also raised concerns that Google's Street View map and imaging feature could pose privacy problems as well when it is launched in Europe. After earlier privacy complaints, Google has begun automatically blurring faces of people captured in street photos taken for the program in the United States.


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