The decision by Google to limit the retention of identifiable search data to a flat 18 months (as opposed to the 18-24 month range announced earlier) earned the company some rare praise from the European Union, which has been critical of Google's privacy policies.
According to reports by the Associated Press and Reuters, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini took the opportunity at a press conference to applaud the change in Google's policy as "a good step."
"I have appreciated the commitment of Google," Frattini said, to "meet our expectations in terms of protection of privacy" and reduce the time of retention of personal data.
In addition to praising Google's shift in data retention, Frattini also said that he was pleased by Google's willingness to consider changes to its handling of "cookies," the small bits of code that can be placed on a user's computer to provide information to Web sites about visitors.
In a letter sent this week by Peter Fleischer, Google's Privacy Counsel, to Peter Schaar, the Chairman of the EU's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, Google said that it believes cookies are a "browser/client issue, not a service/server issue," and so are not relevant to the discussion of data retention (since the "data" -- the cookie -- is not stored in Google's computers, but the user's).
"We also believe," Fleischer's letter continued, "that cookie lifetimes should not be so short as to expire and force users to re-enter basic preferences (such as language preference). Nonetheless, we acknowledge that cookie lifetimes should be 'proportionate' to the data processing being performed."
EU Privacy Ruling
The slightly warmer relations between Google and the EU might be merely a temporary thaw. The Article 29 group, a committee of data protection specialists that advises the EU, has raised several other concerns with Google about its data collection and retention policies. That group could still determine that Google's privacy policies violate European data handling rules, which are generally much more strict with respect to personal privacy than those in the United States.
The Article 29 group will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting in mid-June, but is not expected to make any pronouncement on this issue. A spokesman was quoted as saying that the group will not reach a decision before October.