Yahoo! To Retain User Data For Only 90 Days

There is a famous New Yorker cartoon from 1993 with a dog using a computer, where the dog says: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The implication is that you can be completely anonymous when online and be anyone, or anything, you want to be. That might have be mostly true in the early 1990's, but privacy advocates will tell you that today it's almost impossible to be completely anonymous online. We leave tracks wherever we go online in the form of stored login data, IP addresses, search terms used, and cookies stored on our own systems. Businesses claim that they need this data in order to deliver relevant content and targeted advertising. Advocates claim that too much personal information winds up get collected and saved about the browsing habits of users.

So perhaps in keeping with the holiday spirit of giving, Yahoo! has just delivered a gift to privacy advocates in the form of a reduced data-retention policy. Whereas Yahoo! once retained user data for 13 months, it will now retain that data for only 90 days. The data isn't being purged per se, it will actually be "anonymized" so that it will no longer be able to be identified with a specific user. Google currently retains user data for nine months, after which its user data is also anonymized.

"In our world of customized online services, responsible use of data is critical to establishing and maintaining user trust... We know that our users expect relevant and compelling content and advertising when they visit Yahoo!, but they also want assurances that we are focused on protecting their privacy." -- Anne Toth, Vice President of Policy and Head of Privacy for Yahoo!

Cartoon by Peter Steiner; originally appeared in the July 5,
1993 issue of The New Yorker.
Yahoo! says that it conducted a "comprehensive review of its data practices across the globe," and determined that 90 days is "the minimum amount of time we need to retain data in order to respond to the needs of our business while deepening our trusted relationship with users." The few exceptions to the new 90-day user data retention policy are related to "fraud, security and legal obligations." Yahoo! claims that users and advertisers will not experience any differences with their respective usage of Yahoo!

In response to Yahoo!'s announcement, the consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, sent out a pubic plea to Google, asking Google to match Yahoo's 90-day user data retention policy. In response to a lot of flack that developed over some privacy issues with Google's Chrome browser beta this last September, Google reduced its user data retention policy from 18 months down to nine months. It is possible that Google might once again bow to pressure. And if Google does, there is a strong possibility that Microsoft will follow suit as well--at least to some degree: Consumer Watchdog reports that while Microsoft currently retains user data for 18 months, Microsoft "has said it would move to a six-month retention policy if the other search providers matched the request." If both Yahoo! and Google both switch to 90-day data retention policies it remains to be seen if Microsoft will also bow to the pressure and go from an 18 month data retention policy straight to a 90-day policy.
Tags:  Yahoo, Privacy