By Jacqui Cheng | Published: August 09, 2007 – 11:27AM CT
“We hope this signals the emergence of a new competitive marketplace for privacy,” said CDT president Leslie Harris in a statement. “By themselves, these recent changes represent only a small step toward providing users the full range of privacy protections they need and deserve, but if this competitive push continues it can only stand to benefit consumers.”
The report reiterated many of the recent search policy changes that have made headlines in the last several months. In June, Google agreed to anonymize its search records after 18 months instead of 24 (or previous to that, never). That announcement was followed by one from Ask.com in July, which also said that it would also anonymize its data after 18 months, and then Microsoft just days later—also 18 months. Both AOL and Yahoo! have also agreed to shorten the length of time they keep records around, undercutting the others by anonymizing records after just 13 months.
The report also cited Ask.com’s new AskEraser tool as offering a level of user control that the others do not. AskEraser is a preference that users can set on the site, ensuring that absolutely no search records will be retained for that user past a few hours. CDT praises Ask.com for AskEraser and points out that while the others offer options to their users to extend the length of time their search records are stored, no others currently allow users to choose not to have records retained. CDT recommends that other search engines “continue to work towards providing controls that allow users to not only extend but also limit the information stored about them.”
The CDT provides other recommendations as well. While the organization acknowledges that some search engines have legitimate reasons for keeping data around for advertising purposes, it says that those companies need to store the data securely (hello, AOL) and provide notice to their users about what is being stored and for how long. The CDT also says that the search engines should work together to promote privacy protections “across the board” with smaller partners.
Despite the progress that has been made, however, the CDT still feels that there is a need for stronger privacy legislation. “No amount of self-regulation in the search privacy space can replace the need for a comprehensive federal privacy law to protect consumers from bad actors,” the report says. “With consumers sharing more data than ever before online, the time has come to harmonize our nation’s privacy laws into a simple, flexible framework.”