Privacy bodies back Google step
Privacy bodies have welcomed Google's decision to anonymise personal data it receives from users' web searches.
The firm previously held information about searches for an indefinite period but will now anonymise it after 18 to 24 months.
"This is an extremely positive development," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a US-based watchdog.
"It's the type of thing we have been advocating for a number of years."
However, governments could still force Google to hold onto data or hand it over to authorities.
"By anonymising our server logs after 18 to 24 months, we think we're striking the right balance between two goals: continuing to improve Google's services for you, while providing more transparency and certainty about our retention practices," a statement from the search giant said.
It added: "Unless we're legally required to retain log data for longer, we will anonymise our server logs after a limited period of time."
Peter Fleischer, Google's privacy counsel for Europe, said the decision has been taken after consulting with privacy bodies in the US and Europe.
He said: "We believe that privacy is one of the cornerstones of trust. We will be retroactively going back into our log database and anonymising all the information there."
Mr Fleischer said the firm was holding on to the information for up to 24 months in part to match data retention laws being rolled out across Europe.
European internet service providers (ISPs) and phone companies are in the process of implementing an EU directive which forces them to retain a variety of communication data for up to two years.
Google collects and stores data from each query. It holds information such as the search term itself, the unique address of the PC being used, known as the IP address, and details of how a user makes searches, such as the browser used and previous queries to Google.
That information can contain private data about a user, and could be used to build a detailed picture of the user's habits or lifestyle.
Google says it was using this information to help improve its different services and to monitor how its search engine was functioning.