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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Google to Further Protect Privacy of Online Searchers

Google said on Wednesday it would begin routinely purging its data banks of information that identifies search engine users in order to better shield their anonymity.

Google will delete information from "cookies," bits of software put on computers to track website visits, as well as erase portions of the IP addresses that identify which computer a person is using to get online.

The past practice of the Mountain View, California, Internet search colossus was to keep all logged Web searching details indefinitely.

Data kept by Google regarding searches by users will be made "much more anonymous" 18 to 24 months after it is collected, according to the attorneys.

Google hoped to implement the new privacy policy within a year.

Google's announcement was a break from the common pattern of Internet search engines cloaking details about what how much they track user activity and what they do with the information.

The policy shift comes in the wake of a legal battle Google fought last year with US government officials that demanded revealing user data from the search engine, and from an America On Line (AOL) flub that exposed user behavior.

The court fight ended with Google ordered to turn over some data on sites in its popular search engine to the US federal government -- but only 50,000, far fewer than the government wanted.

Routinely stripping its search logs of potentially identifying information enables Google to better shield users if it is forced to hand over data by officials in any country.

Google's new policy to obscure IP addresses will leave enough of the number to limit the options to 256 computers.

Google said it uses the search data "to improve the quality of our services and for other business purposes" including thwarting hackers and detecting online fraud.

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