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Bing's User-Data Life Span Trimmed to 6 Months

Bing's User-Data Life Span Trimmed to 6 Months

There's a lot of sensitivity over privacy at the user level, but most people really don't care what happens to their data as long as it's not linked to any personally identifiable information. Bing's reduction of the amount of time it keeps user data, therefore, is unlikely to attract many more users to its service. However, it's quite likely to appease regulators that have taken up the privacy banner.

By Erika Morphy
01/19/10 11:17 AM PT

Microsoft has said it will change Bing's search data retention policies, promising to hold users' IP address data for only six months instead of 18.

The change in policy is due to a number of trends, including growing pressure from regulatory authorities, Bing Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen acknowledged in a blog post, citing privacy standards established by the Article 29 Working Party -- a group of 27 European national data protection regulators that advise the European Commission and other EU institutions on data protection.

Under its current policy, Microsoft "de-identifies" user data by separating it from account information that could identify the person who performed the search. Then, at 18 months, it deletes the IP address, the de-identified cookie ID, and any other cross-session IDs associated with the query, Culle said. The process will remain the same under the new policy, just with an earlier expiration date. Microsoft will implement the new policy over the next 12 to 18 months.

Regulatory Push

It's telling that Bing cited Article 29. "The Europeans are taking privacy very seriously," said Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer for Identity Theft 911.

"With Microsoft's prior difficulties in Europe regarding antitrust, I think they feel they have a target on their back," he told the E-Commerce Times.

There is another working group meeting next month on privacy, which could also be pressuring internal deliberations at Microsoft over its privacy policy, Goodman speculated.

"In general, I would say this move is indicative of a harsher privacy environment in general, both in Europe and in the U.S.," he said.

Apathetic Users

Attitudes could not be more different at the user level, however.

Bing's new policy is unlikely to matter to most search engine users, according to David Erickson, director of e-strategy at Tunheim Partners.

"I think there is a lot of chatter about privacy -- but when it comes down to it, people don't really care about it," he told the E-Commerce Times. "As long as the search engine works well and finds what the user needs, that is what people care about."

It will be interesting to see how -- or even if -- Bing incorporates this new change into its marketing message, Ken Saunders, president of Search Engine Experts, told the E-Commerce Times.

"I can't believe it will have that much of an impact at at a competitive level," he said. "People are more concerned about the quality of data they get back and less concerned about the information being saved."

Of course, such sentiments change when users think they are being tracked individually, but that's something none of the search engines purport to do. "As long as search engines just aggregate data and don't ascribe searches to identifiable individuals, they can do what they want as far as the majority of the public is concerned," Saunders said.

Growing Market Share

It is questionable whether Bing's new privacy policy will nudge the needle in search engine market share. Leaving aside the apathy most of the public has for this issue, in general, it can be very difficult to change online habits, Erickson said. "People build a habit with their online tools -- habits that are very powerful even if they do want to change."

Right now, the vast majority of consumers have the habit of going to Google for a search.

Those numbers are changing, though -- albeit imperceptibly. In its most recent survey of the search engine market, comScore found that Bing's share reached 10.7 percent in December -- a 0.4 percentage point rise from November.

Google is still garnering the majority of searches, with a 65.7 percent market share in December, representing a growth rate increase of 0.1 percent.

Bing's growth apparently make a dent in Google's market share. Rather, comScore found, Bing gained ground at the expense of its partner Yahoo, as well as Ask.com and AOL.


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