European regulators may impose stricter regulations dictating the length of time search engines such as Google and Yahoo can retain user data. A draft opinion will be revealed at a meeting next week.
The Article 29 Working Party has expressed concerns that data from searches and cookies could potentially be used to build up detailed user profiles, and violate privacy laws. The Working Party’s 64th meeting will take place in Brussels this coming Monday and Tuesday.
In response to criticism from Article 29 last June, Google has already agreed to limit the amount of time it keeps worldwide users’ search data to 18 months. Microsoft vowed to match that, while Yahoo has decided to cut its retention to 13 months.
With growing concern surrounding online privacy, however, it appears that a concession of 18 months may not be enough to satisfy European legislators or users. In a report published last June, U.K. group Privacy International singled out Google, stating that there were “deficiencies and hostilities in Google’s approach to privacy that go well beyond those of other organizations.”
Although recent reports have suggested Google would refuse to limit its storage period to anything less than an 18 months, Google’s Policy Communications Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Jon Steinback told ClickZ News, “We never said [18 months] was our final offer.”
“We’ve put a lot of thought into it, and came to the conclusion that 18 months represents the right balance between user privacy, and maintaining the security and innovation of our underlying systems.”
Steinback continued, “We don’t see it as a negotiation. Eighteen months is just a balance that we feel comfortable with.”
There has been recent speculation that the Article 29 Working Party would now move on to investigate issues of privacy in relation to targeted online advertising. However, an e-mail to ClickZ News from an Article 29 press officer this week stated, “The issue of targeted advertising is not, as far as we know, on the agenda or work program of the 29 Working Party.”