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Search privacy gets hot: Microsoft and Ask.com tag-team

By Joel Hruska | Published: July 23, 2007 – 10:01AM CT

Microsoft has announced that it will change its current web search privacy policies in response to concern over online privacy and advertising industry consolidation. The company also said that it is joining the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) later this year. 

Henceforth, Microsoft will make all Windows Live Search data anonymous after 18 months “unless the company receives user consent for a longer time period,” according to the company. The policy will be retroactive and will apply to all Microsoft search portals worldwide. Customer search data will also be stored differently than data explicitly tied to people (e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc.), and no correlation of the two data types will be possible. All cookie user identification data will also be removed. For users who opt for longer data retention (for the purposes of customization services), Microsoft promises to be completely transparent with how that data is stored and handled. 

Microsoft has also joined forces with Ask.com in calling for the industry to formulate and adopt a specific, common set of privacy standards. Microsoft’s claim is that these new standards will give consumers far more control over their data privacy and how such information is used and distributed. In addition, the goal is to give customers a more cohesive single privacy policy, rather than the current patchwork of federal, state, and corporate privacy statutes.

“As search and other online services progress, it’s important for our customers to be able to trust that their information is being used appropriately and in a way that provides value to them,” said Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist at Microsoft. “We hope others in the industry will join us in developing and supporting principles that address these important issues. People should be able to search and surf online without having to navigate a complicated patchwork of privacy policies.”

These moves come after Google’s own recent announcements regarding its anonymization of server logs and its further statements that the company will only retain cookie data for two years. 

Such movements from Microsoft and Google are more than just an act of oneupmanship—though there’s certainly an element of that at work—but are a broader response to consumer concerns and nasty allegations of antitrust behavior that’ve been flung around recently. With the Senate set to review Google’s proposed merger with DoubleClick and with Microsoft’s own recent purchase of aQuantive, its in the industry’s best interest to appear very concerned about personal privacy, even as market consolidations point towards more specific, focused, and, in a word, personalized advertising on the horizon.

It’s hard to see these developments as anything but positive, and we are expecting a similar announcement from Yahoo later this week.  

Further reading:

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Great strides made in search engine privacy, says report

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: August 09, 2007 – 11:27AM CT

“Privacy” is the name of the game among US search engines these days, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is pleased with the progress that has been made so far. In a report released yesterday, titled “Search Privacy Practices: A Work in Progress” (PDF), the CDT outlined some of the changes that the five major search engines have made in order to be more conscious of privacy concerns. The organization also pointed out that the major search engines are beginning to aggressively compete with each other in order to provide the “best” privacy protections for their users.

“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.”

Read Full Post »

Great strides made in search engine privacy, says report

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: August 09, 2007 – 11:27AM CT

“Privacy” is the name of the game among US search engines these days, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is pleased with the progress that has been made so far. In a report released yesterday, titled “Search Privacy Practices: A Work in Progress” (PDF), the CDT outlined some of the changes that the five major search engines have made in order to be more conscious of privacy concerns. The organization also pointed out that the major search engines are beginning to aggressively compete with each other in order to provide the “best” privacy protections for their users.

“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.”

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Read Full Post »

Search privacy gets hot: Microsoft and Ask.com tag-team

By Joel Hruska | Published: July 23, 2007 – 10:01AM CT

Microsoft has announced that it will change its current web search privacy policies in response to concern over online privacy and advertising industry consolidation. The company also said that it is joining the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) later this year.

Henceforth, Microsoft will make all Windows Live Search data anonymous after 18 months “unless the company receives user consent for a longer time period,” according to the company. The policy will be retroactive and will apply to all Microsoft search portals worldwide. Customer search data will also be stored differently than data explicitly tied to people (e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc.), and no correlation of the two data types will be possible. All cookie user identification data will also be removed. For users who opt for longer data retention (for the purposes of customization services), Microsoft promises to be completely transparent with how that data is stored and handled.

Microsoft has also joined forces with Ask.com in calling for the industry to formulate and adopt a specific, common set of privacy standards. Microsoft’s claim is that these new standards will give consumers far more control over their data privacy and how such information is used and distributed. In addition, the goal is to give customers a more cohesive single privacy policy, rather than the current patchwork of federal, state, and corporate privacy statutes.

“As search and other online services progress, it’s important for our customers to be able to trust that their information is being used appropriately and in a way that provides value to them,” said Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist at Microsoft. “We hope others in the industry will join us in developing and supporting principles that address these important issues. People should be able to search and surf online without having to navigate a complicated patchwork of privacy policies.”
These moves come after Google’s own recent announcements regarding its anonymization of server logs and its further statements that the company will only retain cookie data for two years.

Such movements from Microsoft and Google are more than just an act of oneupmanship—though there’s certainly an element of that at work—but are a broader response to consumer concerns and nasty allegations of antitrust behavior that’ve been flung around recently. With the Senate set to review Google’s proposed merger with DoubleClick and with Microsoft’s own recent purchase of aQuantive, its in the industry’s best interest to appear very concerned about personal privacy, even as market consolidations point towards more specific, focused, and, in a word, personalized advertising on the horizon.

It’s hard to see these developments as anything but positive, and we are expecting a similar announcement from Yahoo later this week.

Further reading:

Discuss Print

Read Full Post »

Great strides made in search engine privacy, says report

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: August 09, 2007 – 11:27AM CT

“Privacy” is the name of the game among US search engines these days, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is pleased with the progress that has been made so far. In a report released yesterday, titled “Search Privacy Practices: A Work in Progress” (PDF), the CDT outlined some of the changes that the five major search engines have made in order to be more conscious of privacy concerns. The organization also pointed out that the major search engines are beginning to aggressively compete with each other in order to provide the “best” privacy protections for their users.

“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.”

Discuss Print

Read Full Post »

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