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Yahoo Search Data Retention Goes From 90 Days To 18 Months

As the privacy screws tighten in the US and Europe, Yahoo is doing something surprising: extending the time it holds on to personal search records. In 2008 Yahoo decided to retain search records for only three months. Yahoo thus became the most “progressive” of the major search sites with its compressed data-retention policy.

Now Yahoo is reversing itself.

The Europeans had been demanding search/IP data retention of less than six months. And last January Microsoft agreed to comply with that standard. Google, however, refused to retain search records for less than 18 months. The company claimed this extended time frame was necessary to improve services and prevent fraud.

Yahoo: We Need It To “Compete”

Yahoo’s rationale in “going back” to 18 months is different. Yahoo says it needs the data to better compete with rivals. According to the Associated Press, Yahoo wants to hold on to the search data for more content/services personalization and better ad targeting:

Anne Toth, who oversees privacy matters at Yahoo as its chief trust officer, said the company is operating in a different competitive environment today . . . To keep up, she said, Yahoo needs to be able to offer its own highly personalized services — including online shopping recommendations, customized news pages and search tools that can anticipate what users are looking for. To pick out patterns for such personalization, Toth said, Yahoo needs to analyze a larger set of data on user behavior.

Argument Against Self-Regulation?

The Yahoo decision flies in the face of US government efforts to increase online privacy for consumers. Right now there’s a debate going on about industry self-regulation vs. government-imposed rules. As the AP article points out this move provides ammunition to those calling for externally imposed regulations.

Yesterday Yahoo posted mixed but slightly better-than-expected Q1 results. However search revenues were unexpectedly down and have been declining quarter over quarter:

Extending the time that personal search data are retained is unlikely to address the challenge of falling search revenue. However it may help improve display ad targeting and revenues, which have been growing for the company.

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