Leading article: In search of online privacy

Share
Related Topics

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has used the internet that online search engines retain a history of our previous searches and the identity of our computer. Indeed, it often makes our life easier to find that a page we have previously visited remembers us. But how long would most of us estimate that websites hold this information for? A day, perhaps? A week?

The answer is that Google, the world's top search engine, retains this data for up to 18 months; and other popular search sites do so for a similar period. That is long enough to make even the most net-savvy pause for thought. A report by EU data protection commissioners last week argued that it sees no need for search engines to keep such data beyond six months; and that Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and so-called "cookie" monitoring constitute personal information, which search engines ought to do more to protect.

Google was defiant yesterday, arguing that data retention is essential to its search engine software and quibbling with the commissioners' finding that IP addresses should be subject to the full weight of the data protection laws. But the public mood seems to be moving against the web titans. When it emerged last year that Facebook was sending adverts to users after tracking their web-surfing trail, an uproar from the networking site's users forced it to change to an "opt-in", rather than an "opt-out", system.

If Google insists on taking the lead in resisting the EU commissioners on data retention, the company might easily find itself on the wrong end of a similar user revolt.

This is essentially a question of privacy. An individual's search history, if collated over a long enough period, paints a pretty comprehensive picture of a person's interests, relations and intentions. Such information is valuable, perhaps even dangerous, in the wrong hands. The individual user should have access and control of this – not a corporation, or an advertiser.

It is not all one way, of course. We all need to be much more careful about what we post on the internet, particularly on social networking sites (which retain information not just for 18 months, but indefinitely). There have been a number of cases of employers checking up on prospective employees online. And many people are naively putting their personal addresses on the web, behaviour which can easily be exploited by identity thieves.

But the EU commissioners are right to argue that the inclination of the search engines to store as much information on individual users as possible needs to be reined in. Such sites should be allowed to keep hold of enough information to deliver a good service for trawling the web – and not a byte more.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living