Washington, June 6 (Reuters): When Google’s 19 million daily users look up a long-lost classmate, send email or bounce around the Web more quickly with its new Web Accelerator, records of that activity don’t go away.
In an era of increased government surveillance, privacy watchdogs worry that Google’s vast archive of Internet activity could prove a tempting target for abuse.
Like many other online businesses, Google tracks how its search engine and other services are used, and who uses them. Unlike many other businesses, Google holds onto that information for years.
Some privacy experts who otherwise give Google high marks say the company’s records could become a handy data bank for government investigators who rely on business records to circumvent Watergate-era laws that limit their own ability to track US residents.
At a time when libraries delete lending records as soon as a book is returned, Google should purge its records after a certain point to protect users, they say.
“What if someone comes up to them and says, ‘We want to know whenever this key word comes up'’ All the capability is there and it becomes a one-stop shopping centre for all these kinds of things,” said Lauren Weinstein, an engineer who co-founded People for Internet Responsibility, a forum for online issues.
Google officials say their extensive log files help them improve service, fight fraud and develop new products, and unlike many other online companies, it seems willing to pay for the enormous storage capacity needed to save the data.
“If it’s useful, we’ll hold on to it,” said Nicole Wong, a Google lawyer.
Google complies with law-enforcement investigations, Wong said. She declined to comment on the frequency or scope of those requests.
From the ground up, Google designs its offerings to minimally impact user privacy, Wong said.
Google doesn’t share the information it collects from visitors with outside marketers. Employees must get executive approval before they examine traffic data, she said.