Archive for April, 2011

Clarifying a Few Points about our Upcoming Data Retention Policy Change

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A number of media outlets have recently reported on our data retention policy change. We’ve noticed a few inaccuracies and have received some questions.  So we wanted to clarify a few things for the record.

  • Both Microsoft and Google apply a multistep process to de-identify search log file data. However, neither of these companies completes their respective de-identification processes for search log files until the 18 month mark.
  • In Yahoo!’s upcoming policy change for search log files, we will be applying the same method we use today for de-identification. We are simply going to apply it 18 months once the policy goes into effect.

Yahoo! takes a 4-step approach to de-identifying search log file data.

  • Step 1: Delete IP address for most search log files and apply a one-way secret hash to the limited IP addresses that are needed to help our systems detect and defend against fraudulent activity.
  • Step 2: One-way secret hash (a form of encryption) unique identifiers from browser cookies.
  • Step 3: Same as above but we additionally delete half of each identifier associated with a Yahoo! ID.  We take this extra step for registration IDs because, unlike browser cookies that only identify a unique browser, we do associate these with personal information like names and email address.
  • Step 4: Look for patterns common to personally identifying information such as credit card number formats, Social Security number format, telephone numbers, street addresses and non-famous names that often appear in search log files – and then replace those values so it’s no longer identifying to anyone. We would know that a telephone number was searched, for example, but don’t keep the number that was entered.

This process above is what we use today and will remain the same for search log files going forward – only now we will be using a timeframe consistent with what others industry players have been using since at least 2008.

Anne Toth
Chief Trust Officer

Updating our Log File Data Retention Policy to Put Data to Work for Consumers

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Today, Yahoo! is making an announcement of our intention to change our log file data retention policy to meet the needs of our consumers for personalization and relevance, while living up to their expectations of trust.  Over the last 3 years, the way we and other companies offer services online and the way consumers experience the Internet has changed dramatically.  So, we will keep our log file data longer than we have been – offering consumers a more robust individualized experience – while we continue our innovation in the areas of transparency and choice to protect privacy.  We believe it’s a move forward for Yahoo! and our users.

In late 2008, after a careful review of our data systems and needs and after a great deal of discussion among policymakers about how long search companies should hold search log file data, Yahoo! announced a log file data retention policy that set us apart from the rest of our industry. We worked to minimize our log file retention to 90-days for most log file data, noting certain exceptions where we hold raw data for up to 6 months for fraud and security purposes and as long as necessary to meet our legal obligations. Our goal with this log file data retention policy was to continue to offer best-in-class, competitive products while striving to minimize how much raw data we held.

Today our goals remain the same – keep data as long as we need to and meet our consumers’ expectations on trust. While these things are fundamental to us, over the past several years it’s clear that the Internet has changed, our business has changed, and the competitive landscape has changed.  We have been reevaluating our log file data retention policy in light of these changes and as a result of this review we are moving to align our log file data retention policy closer to the competitive norm across the industry.  That means that after this new policy goes into effect, we will no longer apply the 90-day retention policy to raw search logs or other log file data.  We will hold raw search log files for 18 months and we will be closely examining what the right policy and time frame should be for other log file data.  In announcing this change, we have gone back to the drawing board to ensure that our policies will support the innovative products we want to deliver for our consumers.

Yahoo! has not been standing still on privacy. Over the past 3 years we have focused enormous resources on front-end transparency and meaningful choice for consumers. This is evidenced by our Ad Interest Manager tool and our commitment to CLEAR Ad Notice – privacy icons delivered with ads all across the Yahoo! network to give users control over customized advertising. We are continuing to improve these tools, are active in discussions on how to integrate browser-based Do-Not-Track tools into existing privacy models, and are working on even more consumer tools within Yahoo! products designed to put more control our users’ hands.  Privacy has always been a core value of this company.

Transparency with our users is the foundation of what builds trust. That’s why we are telling our users about these changes now, well ahead of when they go into effect. In the next 4-6 weeks we will begin rolling out notifications across Yahoo! to ensure that we have given clear and understandable notice to our consumers of this change in our policy.  Thirty days after we have completed these notifications, we will put the new policy into effect.  We expect this will occur sometime in mid-to-late July.

No policy exists in a vacuum and every company has to continually reevaluate what serves its consumers best over time. Changes like these are never undertaken lightly. We at Yahoo! are incredibly proud of the innovative new products we have launched and have lined up in the coming months for our users around the globe. We have a world-class research team using data to improve consumer experiences. We have a product team dedicated to innovative new products and features like Search Direct and Livestand.  And we remain one of the most visited and trusted sites in the world. We want to stay that way by putting our users’ data to work for them to make every visit to Yahoo! better than the last.

Anne Toth
Chief Trust Officer

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CLEAR Ad Notice and Do Not Track Together

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Yahoo!  submitted a discussion proposal today to the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) to consider  one possible approach to combining the CLEAR Ad Notice program supported by the nearly 6,000 members of the Digital Advertising Initiative with the newly released Do Not Track features in web browsers.

Industry’s efforts to deploy the Advertising Option Icon have gained significant momentum.  Yahoo! has surpassed 1.5 TRILLION impressions of the icon ourselves and has recently expanded coverage to the EU.  Google recently announced upcoming icon coverage for all of AdSense ads being served on hundreds of thousands websites.   Most major web browsers recently released features that align with calls for a “Do Not Track” solution to online behavioral advertising – although each company has taken a different approach to tackle the challenge.  Yahoo!’s  goal is to try to find a way to combine the best of the new browser-based approaches with the existing Advertising Option Icon developed with the cooperation of thousands of companies participating in the Digital Advertising Alliance.

While competition between companies over privacy practices can drive positive developments for consumers, in this case a better outcome for consumers is to converge on a single approach to exercise control over online behavioral advertising.  A single approach can reduce consumer confusion and better align the user experience with the consistency of the CLEAR Ad Notice program managed by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA).  Therefore, we propose that web browser developers align behind a single Do Not Track approach to increase consumer awareness through education and exposure to these features.

Advertising fuels the vast majority of free content and experiences available to consumers across the Internet today.  The sites that invest the time, energy, employees, and technology to provide these free experiences have a critical perspective and must be partners in the conversation with the companies that develop web browsers. All stakeholders should seek to find solutions that provide consumer privacy protections and continue to support a content publisher’s ability to monetize their efforts.

Yahoo! strongly supports the standards development process and is submitting these recommendations in the hope that vigorous, enlightened, respectful debate ensues to drive consensus towards a solution that meets the needs of consumers, publishers, advertisers, and the parties that support each.

Shane Wiley
Sr. Director – Privacy & Data Governance