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7/17/2007
02:19 PM
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Google Cuts Back On Cookie Preservatives

In the months ahead, Google will start distributing cookies that expire automatically after two years of inactivity.

In keeping with Google's ongoing effort to balance privacy concerns with data retention requirements and its own concern for quality of service, Google said yesterday that it plans to shorten the shelf life of its cookies.

The cookies in question aren't those freely available at the Google cafeteria but rather digital files stored on the computers of visitors to Google's Web site for the purpose of authentication, tracking, or storing user preferences, such as the number of Google search results displayed per page.

Google's cookies were designed to outlast Twinkies, a baked good known for its longevity. Their default expiration date is the year 2038, which may or may not be the year Google achieves sentience.

Google designed its cookies to last that long to avoid having to inconvenience its users. But now it seems the company has reconsidered.

"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 -- as long as we could find a way to do so without artificially forcing users to re-enter their basic preferences at arbitrary points in time," Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google, said in a blog post.

Google has been adjusting its privacy practices and policies over the past few months in response to issues raised by European regulators. In March, the company adopted a new policy to anonymize its server logs after 18 to 24 months and in June it reduced its server log retention period to 18 months.

In the months ahead, Google will start distributing cookies that expire automatically after two years of inactivity. The cookies of active Google users will be renewed automatically. And of course the anti-cookie set can continue to delete their cookies or refuse them as they have been doing.

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