Via today’s WSJ article (subscription required),
Today, Microsoft Corp. will announce new policies and technologies to protect the privacy of users of its Live Search services, say executives at the software maker. The company, along with IAC/InterActiveCorp.’s Ask.com, will also announce plans to try to kick-start an industrywide initiative to establish standard practices for retaining users’ search histories.
Meanwhile, Yahoo Inc. this week will begin detailing its plans for a policy to make all of a user’s search data anonymous within 13 months of receiving it, except where users request otherwise or where the company is required to retain the information for law-enforcement or legal processes, according to a spokesman.
It’s a welcome effort for the search engines to start valuing privacy. The WSJ article also points out an interesting strategic implication,
Both [Microsoft and Ask] lag far behind Google and Yahoo in Internet-search market share and thus have far less data about search behaviors than their rivals. By calling for more defined standards on privacy, Microsoft could indirectly limit Google’s ability to use its vast stores of information to improve its services.
Not only does Google have more data due to their higher market share, they’ve also been collecting such data far longer than anyone else. (I mean usable data. Of course Microsoft and Yahoo have been around a lot longer than Google, but they don’t seem to have had a coherent data collection policy for a long time and much of their older data may not be very usable.) Google’s recent strategic emphasis on personalization would also be blunted if they’re limited in how much data they can collect. “Privacy” policies that lessen the usefulness of older data would hurt Google a lot more than it would hurt Microsoft.