Company hopes holding search data for six times longer will strengthen its products.
As it continues to lose market share to rival search providers, Yahoo this week announced its intention to retain search-related data logs for a period of 18 months - six times longer than the 90 days it currently holds them for.
That decision was motivated by the fact that competitors including Google and Microsoft retain similar data for considerably longer than Yahoo - for a period of 18 months - which the company suggests is hindering its ability to keep pace with the market.
"What we implemented has not advanced industry-wide privacy practices, but has begun to limit how dynamic we can be in terms of giving users the innovation they want," a Yahoo spokesperson told ClickZ.
In December 2008 Yahoo slashed the amount of time it retains search logs to three months, largely in response to pressure from Europe's Article 29 Working Party - a collection of data authorities from across the EU responsible for promoting pan European privacy practices.
Google and Microsoft didn't follow suit, however, leaving Yahoo at a considerable disadvantage with regards to data access.
Since January 2009 Yahoo's share of U.S. searches has dipped from 21 percent of searches to 15.7 percent this February. "When we made a change to our data retention policy two years ago it was because of… what we perceived as a benefit to consumer privacy," the spokesperson said, adding, "Yahoo! will continue to work with EU stakeholders including the Working Party to discuss the future of privacy regulation modernized for the Internet age."
Google and Microsoft, meanwhile, have no plans to alter their own data retention policies. "We strike a reasonable balance between the competing pressures we face, such as the privacy of our users, the security of our systems and the need for innovation. We believe anonymizing IP addresses after 9 months and cookies in our search engine logs after 18 months strikes the right balance," Google's policy on the matter states.
A Microsoft spokesperson said the company's search data retention process "includes the removal of the entire IP address from search queries at six months," and that "de-identified cookie IDs and any other cross session IDs are then deleted at 18 months."
Search data retention practices are applicable on a global basis, the three companies said.
Just as Yahoo's market share has declined since 2008, the share of searches conducted through Microsoft's Bing engine has increased, by a roughly proportional amount. Although Microsoft now powers Yahoo's back-end search technology through the alliance the pair formed last year, the companies still compete for users, queries, and ultimately ad clicks.
"We will still compete for [search] audience with Microsoft… We will also continue to compete with Microsoft in other areas such as display advertising," Yahoo's spokesperson said.
Yahoo's ongoing ambitions in the search space were evidenced last month, for example, with the introduction of Search Direct, a feature that will grant it more ad real-estate in the search environment while providing users with instant results within the search box itself.
That inventory will be sold by Yahoo's display sales teams, Yahoo's SVP of search and marketplaces Shashi Seth said, demonstrating one way in which Yahoo's search innovations might benefit its own ad efforts without doing so for Microsoft.
From a competition perspective, therefore, Yahoo's decision may be a necessary one if it hopes to continue to develop its search product, and to keep users searching on its own properties.
UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Microsoft retains search related data for 12 months. It's de-identification process is actually completed after 18 months.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.
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