Google cuts cookie time

Google has vowed to crumble the lifetime of its cookies: it will U-turn its policy of placing small files on your computer until 2038 by making them self-destruct after 24 months.

No longer will users of Google have their habits stored so “far into the future,” because the PREF cookie, which remembers their settings and passwords, will expire after two years.

The move comes after Privacy International accused Google of using “invasive technologies” which effectively put users of its Web Search engine under “comprehensive surveillance.”

Previously, Google told privacy groups its users can delete their cookies - a defence that was last week reiterated, but only to explain why the company initially set them to expire in 2038.

Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, said it was “because the primary purpose of the cookie was to preserve preferences, not to let them be forgotten.”

But it was these traits of the Web file that two years ago prompted America’s National Security Agency to install them on computers to track the activities of internet users.

To distance itself from a similar privacy row, Google recently announced it would anonymise its server logs, including cookie ID numbers and IP addresses, after 18 months.

Yet the company was still black-listed by one privacy group for posing an “endemic” threat to user privacy, the worst on the Web, the watchdog PI claimed at the time.

Far from ideal for a technology company with the informal corporate motto of ‘Don’t be evil.’

“After listening to feedback from our users and from privacy advocates, we've concluded that it would be a good thing for privacy to significantly shorten the lifetime of our cookies,” Google said in a statement.

The company added it will begin issuing cookies with a two-year lifespan in the coming months, but stressed that “regular” Google users will have the files set to auto-renew.

On its blog, Google reflected: “Together, these steps — logs anonymisation and cookie lifetime reduction — are part of our ongoing plan to continue innovating in the area of privacy to protect our users.”


24th July 2007

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