Google’s Peter Fleischer is (again) trying to provide justifications for Google’s retention of users’ search activities. He (again) is misleading. I don’t have a lot of free time right now for an in-depth response, (my analysis is here) which is why I’m glad the good folks at Wired’s Threat Level have done that for me:
Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer continues to mislead the public about why Google keeps detailed logs on its customers searches and internet activity. In a blog entry posted yesterday to the Google Public Policy Blog, Fleischer writes that Google’s retention policy is driven by the E.U. data retention policy — designed to make it easy for police to identify who sent an email and what emails, phone calls and text messages a person sent. Google’s policy is a complicated beast that keeps personally identifiable logs for all of its services globally 18 months, at which time Google attempts to anonymize the data by losing a few digits of the IP addresses of entries in the logs.
It’s a convincing argument, but it’s a misleading one. The E.U. Data Directive applies only to certain kinds of data (see Article 5 in previous link) — such as IP addresses of a person using an email service, dates and times of the use of an ISP, etc. But none of those categories can be read as applying to internet searches. Gmail and Google Talk are likely covered, and perhaps features in Google’s online office documents that let you send a document to another person are covered.
Fleischer has been making this argument for months now, and even Threat Level bought it the first go-round. But let’s reiterate: There is no United States or E.U. law that requires Google to keep detailed logs of what individuals search for and click on at Google’s search engine. It’s simply dishonest to continually imply otherwise in order to hide the real political and monetary reasons that Google chooses to hang onto this data.
Continue reading their response here. I do hope Peter can clear the air on this vital issue.
UPDATE (8/24/2007): My analysis of whether the EU Data Directive applies to search engines can be found here.