At one point, three years ago, Yahoo crowed about how it would keep records of your searching history for only three months. They then said that they would 'purge the information' in order to maintain trust with their users. Now, it appears that Yahoo intend to keep search data for six times as long. Unsurprisingly, this action has angered those who value privacy online over all else. The change will come into effect in mid-to-late July, with Yahoo users being notified of the change within the next six weeks. Privacy advocates believe that Yahoo is no longer seeking to maintain end-user privacy. They believe that Yahoo requires this information in order to provide more targeted advertising to end-users, depending on what they click when searching.
Anne Toth, Yahoo's chief trust officer, had the following to say about the change:
“Over the last three years, the way we and other companies offer services online and the way consumers experience the Internet has changed dramatically, So, we will keep our log file data longer than we have been — offering consumers a more robust individualized experience — while we continue our innovation in the areas of transparency and choice to protect privacy."
Toth's complete blog post on the subject can be read here. Unsurprisingly, a large number of internet users have complained about the change made to Yahoo's policy; some of whom have been more vocal in their displeasure than others. Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, described the move as a 'bait-and-switch' policy. The change in data storage length has put Yahoo at a completely different point within the world of search engines. Previously, Yahoo held information for one of the shortest time periods of any search provider - the new change has taken them from the front of the pack to near the back.
Interestingly, this action could cause problems for Yahoo within the European Union. Yahoo's change may put them in conflict with the data protection clause in EU legislation, which requires search engines to purge all data relating to end users after a six month period. The possibility of Yahoo being blocked in European Union countries is extremely remote, however, as Yahoo intend to 'to discuss the future of privacy regulation modernized for the Internet age' with the European Union.
Anne Toth's blog post outlines Yahoo's new policy as a search engine, stating that other engines are retaining data for longer as well, and that the 'competitive landscape' for search engines has changed. This should come as no real surprise; when Yahoo touted itself as being one of the more privacy-oriented solutions three years ago, Microsoft's Bing engine did not exist in its current form. Rather, it existed only as 'Live Search', and did not hold the same degree of popularity among users. Since its release in June 2009, Bing has rapidly grown in popularity. As of April 2011, Bing has become the 19th most visited site on the internet, according to Alexa.