Yahoo!, they’re watching you! Two years after the search engine broke from the rest of the industry by announcing it would hold users’ Internet search data for just 90 days, the company is backpedaling. Yahoo! will now keep tabs on your browser’s tabs for six times as long as they used to, but why?
The new retention period, 18-months instead of 90 days, puts the company back in line with the giant of the search engine industry, Google, which never abandoned its 18-month retention policy.
And that, an effort to stay afloat in a growing industry, appears to be the main reason behind Yahoo’s seemingly consumer un-friendly move.
Anne Toth, chief trust officer at Yahoo!, told the Daily News the company must now compete with not just search engines alone but also social networking sites, mobile apps and other online services:
“To keep up, Toth 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.”
Search engines typically track user activity by IP number in order to “customize” each user’s search experience. The data retained by Yahoo! will include user’s IP addresses, as well as cookies. The company has also indicated it is considering holding other forms of user information down the road.
The company hopes to increase profits by including targeted advertisements, and retaining user information allows them to provide just the type of customized and personalized services tailored to users’ interests and usage patterns that draw profits.
Yahoo! also argues the extended retention period actually helps users because it allows the site to personalize the search experience for them based on their previous habits.
The company said it plans to begin extending the retention period this summer, and pledged to notify customers before it does so. After the 18 months, Yahoo will still retain the data, but anonymize it so it cannot be linked to individual users.
Even that assurance from Yahoo! did not allay privacy watchdogs who contend that search engines’ holding on to users’ data leaves people vulnerable to identity theft and having their data sold or unknowingly released to third party firms and online advertisers.
The news comes as lawmakers debate how to both regulate Internet privacy and balance commercial and consumer rights, and as the company under scrutiny, Yahoo!, finds itself still falling behind under CEO Carol Bartz.
As reported by the New York Times, Yahoo!’s first-quarter earnings fell short in the search division, making things even more difficult for Bartz and her now two-year-old turnaround plan as she tries to catch up with “faster-growing rivals such as Google and Facebook.”