Following complaints by EU officials about threats to privacy, global search engine giant Google has moved to reduce the amount of time the company holds on to data about what users have searched for.
On Tuesday (9 September), Google announced that it would cut the length of time it retains search data from 18 months to nine.
The announcement is the company's second such reduction. Google originally maintained such records indefinitely, but limited data retention to 18 months in 2007 in the wake of initial privacy concerns.
The latest reduction still does not meet the European Commission's preferences however, although the commission has not yet issued an official reaction.
In March, the European Commission's data protection watchdog recommended that search engines not be permitted to hold on to personal data after the end of six months.
After an extensive inquiry into data retention, the commission's advisory body on data protection had said in a report: "Search engine providers must delete or irreversibly anonymise personal data once they no longer serve the specified and legitimate purpose they were collected for."
Search engines collect information from every search made using their service, as well as the address of the computer - the 'IP address' - that has made a particular search. This combined data, or search history, is a rich mine of user information, which can be tracked and sometimes combined with other data from third parties.
Google, for its part, said it is happy to allay privacy concerns, but there is a trade-off with quality of service, the company argued.
"While we're glad that this will bring some additional improvement in privacy, we're also concerned about the potential loss of security, quality, and innovation that may result from having less data," Peter Fleisher, the company's global privacy lawyer wrote on the Official Google Blog.
"As the period prior to anonymisation gets shorter, the added privacy benefits are less significant and the utility lost from the data grows."
Google's "Suggest" application, which predicts possible search terms as user types, making suggestions based on the letters that have already been entered, will also be tweaked. Currently, the company keeps track of two percent of the data from such searches, but this will now be completely erased after 24 hours.
In another example of European standards being adhered to beyond the EU's borders, Google is applying the changes to all its search websites worldwide, not just to its European versions.