Google (Tries to) Explain Data Retention Policy

Dennis Faas's picture

A couple of months ago, Google explained its plan to anonymize its logs after retaining them for a period of 18 to 24 months.

While some praised this announcement, others questioned why Google has to store this information at all, particularly since the logs include data which can potentially be used to identify individuals.

Last Friday, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer posted an explanation on why the company does -- and should -- keep the data for a while. (Source:

Fleischer says that the policy evolves around three factors: improving service, preventing fraud and complying with legal obligations.

So how do logs improve Google's service?

Fleischer points out the spell-checker feature as an example. "We can offer this service by looking at spelling corrections that people do or do not click on. Similarly, with logs, we can improve our search results: if we know that people are clicking on the #1 result we're doing something right, and if they're hitting next page or reformulating their query, we're doing something wrong." (Source:

Fleischer also explained how logs can help prevent fraud and maintain security. Google's computers can analyze patterns to detect phishing, spam, and scripting attacks. However, immediately deleting IP addresses makes this task much harder, which means that there would be a greater risk for a security attack. (Source:

On the issue of legal obligations, Fleischer's explanation was less straightforward. Although he noted the confusion of complying with multiple countries' legal obligations, the main reason for keeping logs for 24 months seems to stem from a law that has not yet passed. The EU Data Retention Directive is proposing a 24 month log requirement, but so far the law is only being discussed and debated. (Source:

Now that Google has provided users with an explanation, everyone is satisfied, right?

Not exactly. Although the post certainly helped clear up some confusion, many still do not agree with the policy. One blogger expressed her skepticism that every user needs to be monitored in order to improve Google's services. "After all, The Pew Internet & American Life Project relies on a few thousand telephone interviews to make definitive pronouncements of the entire U.S. adult population's online behavior," she wrote. (Source:

Others doubt that legal obligations are a genuine reason to keep the logs. Nevertheless, a law that has not yet passed does not really convince people that their personal data should "legally" be retained. (Source:

Google, we may expect a lot from you, but next time please make your explanation a bit more transparent.

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