Yahoo to keep personal search data for 18 months instead of three

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Yahoo said it would begin keeping records of its users’ search engine queries for at least 18 months, abandoning an earlier policy under which it kept data for only three months.

The retention of search term histories, which can encompass personal topics such as medical conditions or financial issues, has long been a point of contention in debates over digital privacy.

Yahoo said Monday that the decision was made to keep pace with online competitors.

‘Over the past several years it’s clear that the Internet has changed, our business has changed, and the competitive landscape has changed,’ Anne Toth, a policy executive at Yahoo, wrote in a blog post. ‘We have gone back to the drawing board to ensure that our policies will support the innovative products we want to deliver for our consumers.’


It was also Toth who, in December 2008, said that keeping the data for only three months would set Yahoo apart from its competitors and build trust with the company’s users.

But since that announcement, Yahoo’s share of the search business has dwindled, dropping to 16% in March from 20% in late 2008, when it instituted its three-month retention policy, according to Web ratings firm ComScore.

Google, which accounts for about 66% of U.S. searches, keeps logs of users’ searches for at least 18 months, after which it applies some changes to the files that make it more difficult to determine which users performed the original search. But the company does not specify in its privacy policy the exact manner by which it scrubs the records.

Microsoft said that after 18 months, it removes information from search logs that could identify users, including IP addresses — the unique code that each Internet-connected computer uses to send and receive data.


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-- David Sarno