In response to growing privacy concerns from U.S. and European lawmakers, Google announced that it will cut the amount of time it stores users’ IP addresses on its servers in half, reducing the retention period from 18 months to nine months.
After that period, the server logs will be anonymized so it becomes impossible to trace an IP address back to an individual. Google, which had previously cut its data-retention time in a nod to privacy concerns, has maintained that analyzing the server logs with full IP addresses collected over an extended period of time allows it to combat fraud, spam and other Internet threats.
“As the period prior to anonymization gets shorter, the added privacy benefits are less significant and the utility lost from the data grows,” Google’s chief privacy counsels wrote in a blog post. “So, it’s difficult to find the perfect equilibrium between privacy on the one hand, and other factors, such as innovation and security, on the other.”
The move comes as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) faces increasing regulatory scrutiny, both as part of the growing concern that large Web companies might know more about their users that people would be comfortable with, and connected with the ongoing antitrust review of its advertising partnership with Yahoo.
While U.S. lawmakers have recently been ramping up their inquiry into Internet companies’ privacy safeguards, Google’s move was largely in response to the complaints of an advisory group to the European Union.
According to recent filings with the Federal Trade Commission, the policy change will make Google’s IP retention time the shortest of the big four Web companies.
In their FTC filings, Yahoo and AOL both said that they anonymized their logs after 13 months. Microsoft said it purged the addresses after 18 months.