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Monday, December 22, 2008

Consumer Group Calls on Google to Offer Zero Personal Data Retention Policy

Google should offer users of its search engine the ability to leave no personal data on the Internet giant's servers, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog say and are asking for a meeting with Google's chairman to discuss the group's privacy concerns.

In a letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and policy advocate John Simpson noted that the search engine offers the ability for users' personal data to be removed almost immediately from its servers with its AskEraser service. "We call on you to offer Google's users such a clearly identifiable 'opt out' function on its search engine that is essentially a zero personal data retention policy."

During a question and answer period at a speech in Washington, DC, Schmidt told Simpson that he was "sympathetic" to the group's privacy concerns and told him to arrange a meeting "off line" rather than in front of 200 people, the consumer group says. An online video of that exchange is available.

The letter to Google came after the announcement this week by its rival Yahoo! that it will anonymize personal data it retains after only 90 days. Google currently keeps the data for nine months. European privacy officials have suggested a six-month standard, a limit that Microsoft said it would adopt if all search engine companies adopt the standard.

"This is really about choice," says Simpson. "People should have the right to choose what they do with their personal data and if they provide it all."

To guarantee privacy, Consumer Watchdog says, users need: 1) control over their private data; 2) transparency about how their data is gathered and used; and 3) the right to give informed consent through "opt in" functions, rather than having to sift through pages in order to even locate the "opt out" function, or in its absence, a clearly identifiable and accessible "opt out."

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