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GOOGLE, MICROSOFT, YAHOO BREACH PRIVACY LAWS, EU GROUP SAYS

Source: The Star

Posted on June 7, 2010

Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. must limit the amount of time they keep Internet- search records to six months or justify the need for any longer storage periods, European Union officials probing possible breaches of EU data privacy laws said.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party has written to inform the three companies "their methods of making users' search data anonymous" continue to be in breach of EU data protection rules, the group said in an e-mailed statement.

Google, owner of the world's largest search engine, must further shorten its data storage period to six months from nine months, the group wrote. It said the Mountain View, California- based company's "apparent lack of focus in data retention is concerning."

Google, which has almost 79 per cent of the European search- engine market, according to ComScore Inc., faces growing scrutiny from regulators and competitors in Europe. The EU officials at a meeting earlier this month also agreed a common position to keep Google from infringing privacy rights as it rolls out its Street View mapping service across Europe.

The EU body guides the work of national authorities which have the power to levy penalties for non-compliance. Shortening the time that search engines keep such records may eat into advertising revenue. The companies rely on users' queries to target advertising more specifically.

Google spokesman Al Verney and spokespeople for Microsoft and Yahoo in Europe couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The companies are vying for market share in searches, expected to generate $32.2 billion in advertising revenue this year, according to ZenithOptimedia, a London-based ad buyer owned by Publicis Groupe SA. To compete better against Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo announced a 10-year deal in July that puts Microsoft's Bing search engine on Yahoo sites.

The EU privacy watchdog has been probing search engines since early 2007. It adopted a decision in 2008 that the search engines' policies may violate data protection laws.

"A user's search history contains a footprint of users' interests and personal relations," said the data protection group today. "This information can be misused in many ways."




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