The European Union’s group of data privacy regulators said Monday that internet protocol (IP) addresses should generally be regarded as personal information, particularly when an individual is identified through such an address, reported AP. Germany’s data protection commissioner, Peter Scharr, leads the group in investigating how well search engines are abiding by the privacy law. In a parliament hearing on online data protection, he professed a different view than that of Google, which says IP addresses only identify locations of computers, as opposed to who the individual users are. Although Scharr recognized that a computer’s IP address does not necessarily link it to an individual – as in the case of multiple users at offices or cyber cafes – he says there have been a number of sites that reveal persons or companies linked to IP addresses.
Last year, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) addressed privacy concerns with IP addresses by cutting the time of its stored search information to 18 months and reducing the time limit on cookies that collect users’ online behavior from a default of 30 years to just two. It also took out the last two figures from stored IP addresses, a move a privacy advocate at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) deemed useless in supposedly making it impossible to distinguish users.
Google’s global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, defended the storing of IP addresses because it enables the search engine to give users more relevant results based on their locations and provide advertisers with correct billing information proving actual users are clicking on their ads.
Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), on the other hand, refines its own search results by relying on its users to log into the Passport network via Hotmail or MSN accounts, instead of storing IP addresses.