EU justice chief welcomes Google data move
EmptyLUXEMBOURG -- A European Union official on Wednesday applauded Google Inc.'s offer to cut by a quarter the time it retains data on its users' searches.
The move comes amid growing concerns that the company could be violating EU privacy rules with its current policy of keeping data for up to 24 months. Now, the search leader says it will make the information anonymous in 18 months.
Franco Frattini, the EU justice and home affairs commissioner, welcomed a letter sent by Google to an independent EU data protection panel earlier this week in which the company said it would raise its data privacy standards for all users.
"It is indeed a good step," Frattini said. "I have appreciated the commitment of Google not only to meet our expectations in terms of protection of privacy or better on cutting the time and reducing the time of retention of personal data."
He said he expects an answer soon from Google on other concerns raised by EU experts, including how it uses information collected from cookies, or small data files it and other companies install on Web surfers' computers to gather insights on usage.
In the letter, Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, said the company's retention period "complies with" EU data privacy rules. Google also is going further than other Web sites that keep user records indefinitely, he added.
But it was difficult for Google to decipher the EU's data protection laws, he said.
"There is tremendous confusion in legal circles across Europe on these issues," Fleischer said. "Both individuals and companies would benefit from greater clarity from authorities responsible for the (EU) Data Retention Directive to answer these very fundamental questions."
Google says the data help its search engine better understand its users so it can deliver more relevant results and advertisements.
The 28-member data protection panel, which advises the European Commission and EU governments, last month demanded Google answer concerns about the company's practice of storing and retaining user information.
The EU investigation into Google comes amid growing concerns over the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's privacy practices.
London-based Privacy International last week rated Google the worst on privacy among the Internet's top destinations. The group said it was particularly troubled by Google's ability to match data gathered by its search engine with information collected from other services such as e-mail, instant messaging and maps.