O'Brien, Kevin. Microsoft Puts a Time Limit on Bing Data. New York Times. January 20, 2010 or O'Brien, Kevin. Microsoft to purge data from Bing after 6 months. India Times. January 20, 2010, or O'Brien, Kevin. Bing to Keep User Data Only Six Months. Jakarta Globe. January 20, 2010.
Bowing to pressure in Europe, Microsoft said Tuesday that it would comply with regulators and discard all data collected on users of its Bing search engine after six months.
John Vassallo, a Microsoft vice president and associate general counsel, said the company would introduce the change over the next 18 months. The company aims to satisfy a European advisory group that had been critical of how search engines collect and retain data on individuals for advertising purposes.
The concession, relatively painless for Microsoft given its tiny share of the global search market just 3 percent is yet another example of an American technology giant’s changing its way of doing business to suit stricter European concepts of antitrust and privacy laws.
The European Commission in December dropped an antitrust case against Microsoft after the software maker took the unprecedented step of agreeing to distribute the browsers of its competitors through its Windows operating system.
Unlike the agreement on browsers, which will be confined to consumers in Europe, Microsoft’s decision to discard data will affect users around the world, including in the United States.
Hendrik Speck, a professor of computer science at the University of Applied Sciences in Kaiserslautern, Germany, said competitors would probably follow Microsoft’s decision because consumers were increasingly concerned about online privacy amid widespread data theft and rising use of social networks.
“Google and other engines are starting to realize that consumers around the world are placing an increasing value on privacy and that can have business consequences,” Professor Speck said.
Europe is the world’s largest market for Internet searches, accounting for 32 percent of online queries, according to comScore, a market research company. The Asia-Pacific region had 31 percent of searches and North America 22 percent, according a comScore report in July. Google has a 67 percent share of the global search market, according to comScore, but a more than 80 percent share in Europe, where Microsoft has just 2 percent of the market.
In 2008, a panel of national privacy regulators from each European Union country asked Microsoft, Google and Yahoo to eliminate all online query data, like a computer’s unique identification number, location and the text typed into search fields, after six months.
The panel, known as the Article 29 Working Group, held a hearing with representatives of the search engine companies last February, and has given each until the end of January to respond.
Like other search engines, Bing had been keeping user data for more than 18 months. Last year, Microsoft said it would change its policy to make an individual’s Internet protocol, or I.P., address anonymous after six months if its major competitors did also.
In its announcement Tuesday, Microsoft said it would delete I.P. addresses after six months but would retain cookies and other session identifiers software that recognizes a returning computer for 18 months. Once it deletes an I.P. address, Microsoft said the link between data and a specific computer became effectively untraceable.
In a statement, Google gave no indication it would accept the European Union’s demands. The company’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, reaffirmed Google’s policy of making user data anonymous after nine months, saying it struck the proper balance between ensuring user privacy and refining the functioning of its leading search engine.
“Data from our search queries represents a crucial arm in our battle to protect the security of our services against hacks and fraud,” Mr. Fleischer said. “It also represents a critical element allowing us to help users by innovating and improving the quality of our searches.”
Yahoo, which had been deleting only a portion of individual I.P. addresses, said it would now delete the entire address after 90 days and make anonymous the log of a user’s activities. The policy would not apply to requests from law enforcement agencies that data be retained, said Amber Allman, a Yahoo spokeswoman.
Mr. Vassallo, the Microsoft executive, said his company’s decision to conform to European requests on data retention was meant to avert the possibility of new regulation.
“It is possible that the European Union will take a position to regulate this one way or the other,” Mr. Vassallo said. “That would need a high level of responsibility from industry.”