Responding to ongoing concerns regarding online user privacy from both consumer advocates and regulatory agencies, Internet giant Yahoo announced today that it will begin anonymizing usage logs for its plethora of online services after 90 days.
"In our world of customized online services, responsible use of data is critical to establishing and maintaining user trust," said Yahoo privacy head Anne Toth, in a statement. "We know that our users expect relevant and compelling content and advertising when they visit Yahoo, but they also want assurances that we are focused on protecting their privacy."
Anonymizing logs means stripping out information that could potentially identify individual users, like IP addresses, account information, and potentially sensitive bits of information that might be stored in users online profiles or supplied as part of a sign-up or verification process. Yahoo plans to extend the 90 policy beyond search logs—traditionally the focus of data retention policies—to include ad views, ad clicks, pack clicks, and page views; the only exceptions will be security investigations and cases of fraud—where Yahoo will hang on to data for six months—and where legal obligations require Yahoo retain the data longer.
Google started the industry’s move towards shorter data retention times in mid-2007 when it announced it would anonymize data after 18 months. Internet companies have historically been reluctant to anonymize their logs because they believe the information is useful and compelling to their advertisers, and enables them to create systems that more precisely target advertising at end-users. However, retaining the data raises significant privacy concerns, and AOL’s inadvertent release of very poorly anonymized usage data in 2006 raised awareness of potential mis-use of log information. The Euoprean Union has recommended that firms anonymize their logs after six months.
The 90-day threshold makes Yahoo’s data retention policy the briefest in the online search industry.
Yahoo says users won’t see a difference in their experience with Yahoo services—Yahoo will still offer highly customized pages and do its darndest to pepper users with advertising it believes to be most relevant to their interests and activities.