July 16, 2007

Google cookie cut unlikely to satisfy privacy concerns

by Brian Turner


An announcement by Google that it will auto-delete cookies after two years is unlikely to satisfy privacy campaigners.

Google have already agreed with the EU to ensure user data is anonynimised after 18 months. The latest move in stating that cookies storing user information will autodelete after two years is additionally intended to make the company appear to be taking privacy issues more seriously.

However, fundamental concerns remain regarding privacy.

Firstly, while user data may be anonynimised after 18 months, Google still retains the right to process that data regardless.

Additionally, while the new cookie settings allow them to autodelete after 2 years, this will only happen if the user no longer visits a Google site. If the user visits a Google site during this time, the lifespan of the cookie is reset.

What is also a concern is that Google is able to capture a snapshot of user data not simply from its own sites, but also from partner sites. For example, a user who never uses Google Search could still have their behaviour recorded if they visit a website using other Google products, such as Google Analytics and Google Adsense.

So far Google have made no statement on data collection on third-party sites.

While Google has complained that other ISP’s, such as telecom’s companies, are capable of recording user data – often by law – Google’s reputation for dedicated data mining and processing means that few other companies are capable of weeding out such detailed information on user behaviour.

The extent of how personally revealing this data could be came to light last August when AOL released what they believed to be anonymous user data, only for researchers to be able to use this to track down individuals from their recorded behaviour.

While the pressure is on for other ISP’s to also improve their own privacy standards, Microsoft and Yahoo! have yet to publish any similar changes in their own privacy protection policies.

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