As Brad Stone observes at the NY Times, “There’s nothing like a little regulatory scrutiny to get Internet companies talking about privacy.” With the EU, the US Federal Trade Commission, and the US Congress getting into the act there’s plenty of scrutiny and Microsoft today followed Google with an announcement to deflect it.
In a nutshell, Microsoft announced a variety of new data retention principles and related actions:
The principles outline new, enhanced steps to help protect the privacy of Microsoft Windows Live users, including making search query data anonymous after 18 months by permanently removing cookie IDs, the entire IP address and other identifiers from search terms. Microsoft will also work to give customers more control over what information it uses to personalize their online search experience. In connection with its efforts to support a common industry approach to privacy issues, Microsoft also announced that it will join the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) later this year when it begins to offer third-party ad serving broadly.
And elaborating one of my favorite points:
For example, once the company begins to offer advertising services to third-party Web sites, it will offer customers the ability to opt out of the behavioral ad targeting by Microsoft’s network-advertising service on those Web sites.
Presumably that also applies to Microsoft sites as well, but it isn’t as if no one told them that Microsoft touting ““audience intelligence data” for adCenter was going to be a problem. Of course, while Microsoft is the most aggressive about it, all the search advertising engines play the same game to some extent as Danny Sullivan describes in his useful history of this latest Web privacy flurry.
Sullivan also observes that none of the big names have so far actually done anything, but are merely competing for PR (cf. this content free call by Microsoft and Ask for industry privacy standards). However, the best at the game is apparently Yahoo who didn’t even send out a press release, but got the word out to the NY Times (see above) that they will anonymize after only 13 months and thereby earned a ”cleanest data-collection shop” label. For now the big question is whether the promises will quiet the government watchdogs, but longer term questions about the suitability of Microsoft’s innovations in the Web ad business remain.