Google Will Start Removing Identifying Data From Search Logs

from the about-time dept

Given that Google searches are being used in court cases as evidence and the supposed big business of selling user data, it's good to see that Google has decided that it's going to start purging data in its search logs. Prior to this, it logged and kept everything, from searches to IP addresses. In other words it's a data retention lover's dream database. Of course, they're only going to purge the data that's over 18 months old, so they'll still be hanging onto plenty of data for quite some time. Of course, as Jim Harper notes, Google's choice of wording here is a bit bizarre, as it claims it will start making the data "more" anonymous. Harper points out that (like pregnancy) anonymity should be a binary function -- it either is or is not anonymous, so he's curious about the modifier.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Devang, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 4:01am

    Some change...

    They said they're dropping either the 3rd or 4th number from an IP in logs... it isn't much, especially not for users who actually have Google accounts. I for one didn't know they kept logs on every search and every user identifiable by IP and thought it was just limited to users with Google accounts. TOR and I2P among other true internet anonymizing services (even those which aren't free) seem more and more appealing by the day.

     

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  2.  
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    GoogleSmoogle, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 4:18am

    Google is a privacy disaster

    Google is a privacy disaster waiting to happen. Not only do they keep identifiable search queries for 18 months minimum, Google Analytics tracks everywhere the IP address went, Google Adsense does the same, Blogger keeps all the info, email stores email even after deletion.

    Google's privacy policy is a disaster that goes way beyond any snooping tendencies of governments.

    For example, on the right I see you have 'ads by Google'. and Google analytics on that page. Those two things are more than enough for a Google employee to identify me from this comment.
    They have my IP address at submission time and the adsense cookie, both of which can be matched up to other sites I surf until my identity is resolved.

    This Google privacy fix really doesn't go far enough.

     

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  3.  
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    is not binary, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 5:23am

    anonymous

    The Bureau of the Census publishes anonymous data. Still when the numbers and references start to describe a small enough group, where you could conceivably figure out something about your neighbor, they "suppress" the data. What? Sort of anonymous data?

    If you put together anonymous data from multiple sources, you could know enough to make the collection of data not anonymous.

    Get over it. Most people don't care enough about you to want to know about you, and the ones who do, already know about you.

     

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  4.  
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    chips, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 5:58am

    Why we want our search usage to be anonymous

    Many users of Google reveal a great deal of information about themselves via their searches.

    If you sicked smart people on analyzing each user's search data you could presumably generate lists of ip addresses
    -> with particular political views
    -> with a particular religion

    The fear is that when the government goes fully fascist on us, it used to be quite an involved task to generate the list of people to be executed. The Nazi's had to conduct a census & then hire IBM to analyze the results before they got the trains to the death camps rolling.

    I guess the government already has their own census data; but it's no where near as good as Google's data for drawing up seating charts for trains to death camps.

    The existence of a well organized single source of data about the best educated portion of the population's political views is a dictator's wet dream. It would be prudent to avoid creating this.

     

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  5.  
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    Snapper Cridge (friggin chickens), Mar 15th, 2007 @ 6:35am

    It always makes me laugh that we are naive enough to think that simple things like what's being discussed here will honestly protect your anonymity. If people want information about you they will find it; UNLESS YOU DON'T WANT THEM TO!

    Be proactive in protecting your privacy. However, doing all you can still won't protect you completely. As long as you have a name and/or a social security number, your information is someones for the taking.

    You don't want to get caught up in a mess, don't do anything wrong. Those that fly straight have nothing to hide!

     

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  6.  
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    USBguru, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 6:44am

    Ads Galore

    It may be worth noting that Google is first an Ad company and second a search company. Just an opinion, but Ads are where the bulk revenue is generated... And as such, they use technology to the greatest advantage.

    Perhaps just like in recent films, we will see a time when simply walking by a shop or store will activate an "individual" specific targeted Ad!

     

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  7.  
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    Glitch23, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 6:57am

    For once I agree

    For once I agree with the saying:

    "You don't want to get caught up in a mess, don't do anything wrong. Those that fly straight have nothing to hide!"

    Usually I laugh at that, but in this case it fits well. As long as you're a citizen in this country then you information is not secret and you are not anonymous. But we like to think we are.

    What's is there to stop the person at the DMV or Dept of Vital records from keeping the copies of information you have to give them in order to get what you came for? Nothing, oh wait they have policies, riiiight.

    If I'm going to do something that I'm afraid someone else might find out about I won't be doing it on the Internet.

     

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  8.  
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    TB, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 6:58am

    Anonimity is NOT a binary function...

    i.e. If they keep your gender, that's not completely anonymous, but it's not sufficient for an identification. Therefore, removing your name or IP address, but leaving your gender and home state might make you more anonymous

    The argument "(like pregnancy) anonymity should be a binary function -- it either is or is not anonymous" is completely bogus.

     

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  9.  
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    DefinitionMan, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 7:13am

    Don't ask don't tell & don't read my diary

    "You don't want to get caught up in a mess, don't do anything wrong."

    Define 'Wrong'. For example US army has a 'don't ask don't tell policy', I search for information on the gay scene in my area. As part of an investigation on me, they find I search gay dating sites, so they have to kick me out of my job. Was I doing wrong?

    "If I'm going to do something that I'm afraid someone else might find out about I won't be doing it on the Internet."

    That's everything:

    I don't want Google to know who I am when I make this comment, because Google can financially damage me.

    I don't want my mom to see the porn sites I search for.

    I don't want my wife to see the new car sites I search for.

    I don't want my insurance company to see my search for medical conditions.

    I don't want the airline company to see I've booked the hotel and have to fly on a certain date no matter how expensive the ticket.

    I don't want that creepy old woman down the street from reading my email.

    I don't want the washing machine company knowing when I search for 'competing brand'.

    I don't want any of them to know squat about me, and that is why we have privacy, and I'd like Google to respect that privacy, and if they refuse, I'd like my government to drag their sorry little asses into court until they do respect privacy.

    This measure is not good enough, not even close to good enough.

     

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  10.  
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    James, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 7:33am

    Re: Don't ask don't tell & don't read my diary

    Why are people always so damned surprised about information like this? The logging functions are built into the software, you use the Google search engine for FREE and of your own volition. GET OVER IT.

    You don't wear your thong / butt plug / hot leather pants to places you where you don't want folks to know you're into (insert fetish here) and likewise you shouldn't search for things that might one day come back to haunt you.

    If you DO need to research a sensitive topic, do like the other poster offered and be proactive about your privacy BEFORE you search.

     

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  11.  
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    McLurker, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 7:37am

    Reading comments like these...

    "You don't want to get caught up in a mess, don't do anything wrong. Those that fly straight have nothing to hide!"

    ... always makes me fear for my fellow man. And myself.

    It's what you don't know that will get you.

     

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  12.  
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    Dewy, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 7:38am

    Privacy

    Anonymity is not like a pregnacy... it has layers. Some data about you can be tracked and your identity not be revealed.

    Google needs data to make their engines and ads track better, its why today's internet uses google rather than alta-Vista. Thats why they keep data in the first place... not to track you, but to track searches... ip's are needed in this to determine how geography influences the searches.

    Purging that data after use is prudent, and when is just a matter of diligence.

    Ultimately... if your doing something wrong, then your either dumb and need to be caught, or using the various tools available to mask your identity anyway...

    As to "trains to Gulag"... if and when the government decides to purge a particular demographic, just know it'll be the next day before you find out, and it'll be too late to stop it. You just have to speak out before they come to get you.

    i.e. War on Drugs (really... war on drugs we don't profit from), or War on Terror (meaning, war on terrorists we no longer sponsor), or My favorite... War on Poverty (while we cut taxes for the rich and slash welfare spending)

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 7:47am

    When "they" take charge of your information...

    They're going to look for the people who are using a lot of bandwidth anonymously and put them into the camps first. If you don't unplug now, and go live in the woods you're in trouble!

    GET OVER IT!

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    James, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 8:25am

    No James, YOU get over it

    "you use the Google search engine for FREE and of your own volition. GET OVER IT."

    I visit a website like Techdirt it uses Google analytics, and Google notes my IP and page.

    My own volition? No.

    I visit a site, it serves up a Google advert and Google servers note my IP.

    My own volition? No.

    Even when I use Google search engine, I did not agree that Google could use that data for anything other than delivering me the result. Not explicitly not implicitly.

    I did not agree that those pieces of data could be linked or stored.

    And of course, you cannot agree to waive my rights on my behalf.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    daryn, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 8:41am

    Simple solution?

    If you simply utilize a firewall router, then your computer's IP is then a NAT'd DHCP address that can not be tied to a particular individual. Google would only be able to tie a particular search to a particular ISP, correct? Am I misinformed or making inaccurate assumptions?

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    daryn, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 8:41am

    Simple solution?

    If you simply utilize a firewall router, then your computer's IP is then a NAT'd DHCP address that can not be tied to a particular individual. Google would only be able to tie a particular search to a particular ISP, correct? Am I misinformed or making inaccurate assumptions?

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    James, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 8:44am

    Re: No James, YOU get over it

    Actually most websites have a terms of service, techdirt most likely included, that state by using their website you agree to be bound by those terms (terms being what they collect, how they can use identifiable information, etc. etc. blah blah blah)... please don't be so blind, and next time use your brain before you speak.

    http://www.google.com/terms_of_service.html

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 8:56am

    last 2 bytes

    if the last 2-byte pair were removed, that would tell google the general location without being sufficient identifying information. They could use thier cooky's id for that, which would be of less use to the govt. as a means of identifying people but perfectly good for google.

    If you are stupid enough to believe that google do not use the information you provide, then you need to have your intelligence boosted by replacing your brain with a baked potato.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    a, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 9:05am

    A better question is does Google dump the data in the search log after they have mined the information and put it in individual profiles they have of users?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Overcast, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 9:19am

    "You don't want to get caught up in a mess, don't do anything wrong. Those that fly straight have nothing to hide!"

    Sure - that's great for fascists, tyrants, and communists. No in a free society.


    Just because I'm not doing anything illegal doesn't mean I want everyone to know what's going on in my life. People like a bit of privacy - seriously - do you have curtains or blinds at all? If so - obviously, you understand that concept to a point then.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    ecoshift, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 9:28am

    the gulag passenger list

    As I'm sure google is aware, I already live in the woods.

    I love the near immediate access to information that google makes possible. I've become dependent both professionally and personally on the searches, features and gadgets. I have several google accounts, including personalized home pages that are attached to my email at the domain that I own. I use google earth on a regular basis. Google's stock charts are among the most convenient to use. Etc., etc.

    I have no illusions about my privacy. So far, google's actions and policies seem benign. Nevertheless, I'm beginning to see google as having the potential to dominate the internet the way that microsoft dominates operating systems. It's worth paying attention and speaking up about google policy -- absolute power...etc.

    I recommend that people keep using their google tracked rights to freedom of speech and access to information right up until they start loading the train for the gulag.

    By that time, if your not already on the passenger list from your signed letters to the editor, your blog, your websites, etc. then you will be part of the problem...

     

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  22.  
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    Logical Leap, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 9:47am

    First one, then the other

    I think we all agree that the Google DB is vast and very informative to those savvy enough to parse it one way or the other. It bears saying again, the above comments regarding Fascism, and flying right are correct as far as they go, but the current leadership has put a match to the corner of the Constitution, snapped the Bill of Rights over their knee and this road leads to Carnivore-like mining of the data of 'flying right' but not governmentally accepted people.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Jo Mamma, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 10:22am

    Re: Simple solution?

    "If you simply utilize a firewall router..."

    Yes, you are misinformed, for the most part. If you use a router, they may not be able to see the specific computer that made the request, but they would still know the public IP address that made the query.

    All they'd have to do then is see which ISP owns that IP, subpoena the logs from the ISP and find which account owned the IP address at the time.

    Your response then could be something like "oh, well, I'm behind a router, so you can't prove it was MY computer that made this query". Their response would be "It's YOUR router, right? And all of YOUR computers are presumably behind YOUR router... so who gives a shit? This is obviously your data".

    Now, if you had a public Wi-Fi connection, or shared a connection with someone else, or even just removed password protection from your wireless router, you could perhaps give a reasonable doubt to your actually performing the search.

    But if we're living in fascist Germany in the '30s, we're all screwed anyway. Unless you're living in current day communist China, some screwed up place in the middle-east, or a hell-hole in Africa, you're fine. Though you might want to watch your back if you're living in the Sovi... er, Russia too.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    a, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 10:37am

    Re: First one, then the other

    Logical Leap, keep your political rants to yourself. You do know that Carnivore was developed under Clinton, right?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    hmm, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 10:42am

    wow

    A lot of people got fired up over this one. Tracking ads and searches has nowhere near the impact on me that monitoring emails does, and that is something the NSA admits to doing. Now, while I am not a conspiracy theorist, I do like being able to converse with friends or family, anywhere in the world, without someone reading over my shoulder.
    I saw an FBI sheet once, that showed criteria for identifying white seperatists and other groups that could possibly be considered revolutionary or terrorist in nature. I technically should be on the list because I have bought books on network security, hacking, religion, go to church, own a gun (more than one), have been to gun shows, was homeschooled at one point, have studied military history and martial arts, the list goes on. I found it amusing since being anti-American, revolutionary, or terrorist is pretty much counter my personality.
    If I were going to be paranoid, google having my IP would be the least of my worries.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Blob, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 11:42am

    IPs Don't always Identify you!

    Hehe sheesh IP Addresses don't always identify you even if the ISP was given a subpoena for a certain IP address it wouldn't really do any good especially for if they were lookin @ my IP cuz I'm on a hacked cable modem which has a cloned mac address from another node on their service and is pretty useless if the RIAA or MPAA or whatever agent was inquiring about my IP. Why am I not identifable? it's because my damn mac on the cable modem is cloned so if they were to try and identify me all they would get is the customer's info from the other node that I've cloned. Of course they'd see that this cable modem here is invalid and a illegal intrustion on their network so they'd kick it offline and then I'd be forced to pop in another mac and upload my 0/0 config to get back online at unlimited bandwidth ;-) Sucks to be a n00b eh

     

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  27.  
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    peter, Apr 11th, 2007 @ 6:23am

    no records

     

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  28.  
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    Dog00, Jun 24th, 2007 @ 3:04am

    Re: Why we want our search usage to be anonymous



    I noted that of all places, the cops went nuts at an annual successful fun "Critical Mass" bike ride in San Fran in I think '95. A community organizer who had worked with cops and businesses and city officials was attacked, his professional video camera taken. Why SF? Reputation of "hippiedom" in that zip code?

    At the time, mayor was Willie Brown. The same Willie Brown who was reportedly notified by his friend Condi Rice on Sept 10 to NOT FLY the next day. I'd have to guess he's in cahoots with Washington, like so many Latin American dictators and the CIA.

    My memory fails, but I think "Hippiedom 2", Madison, WI, was also targetted for some extra spicy police action.

    The point is, in decades past, mere acts of peaceful protest were met the response of anything from clubs to guns to machine guns -- Ludlow, CO; Matewan, WV; Fred Hampton's apartment in Chicago; and ML King's balcony in TN (a court finally found for the plaintiffs (with Lawyer William Pepper, with new evidence) against the US Army and other govt officials. So being "good" and "innocent" is not enough, if you're the wrong kind of good.

    Well, they got me by my website.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Dog00, Jun 24th, 2007 @ 3:09am

    Re: Privacy

    { i.e. War on Drugs (really... war on drugs we don't profit from), or War on Terror (meaning, war on terrorists we no longer sponsor), or My favorite... War on Poverty (while we cut taxes for the rich and slash welfare spending) }
    Dewy, Just want to thank you for stating that so clearly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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