MSN Admits to Sharing Search Data

Following news that Google refused to comply with a subpoena requiring the company to turn over search records from its database, much speculation swirled about the response from rivals MSN and Yahoo. MSN has broken its silence and now acknowledges that it did share search data, but no personal information.

The subpoena was handed down by the U.S. Department of Justice last summer, and was reportedly issued to gather data to support a child protection law that was struck down two years ago by the Supreme Court. Under that law, the government could punish pornography sites that made content easily accessible to minors.

Microsoft's MSN division says it worked hard to limit the request to data that followed its principals of protecting customer privacy.

"The applicable parties to the case received this data, and the parties agreed that the information specific to this case would remain confidential. Specifically, we produced a random sample of pages from our index and some aggregated query logs that listed queries and how often they occurred," explained MSN Search general manager Ken Moss.

Moss added that, "Absolutely no personal data was involved," and said the government was only able to see how frequently a query term occurred. The data did not allow officials to look up IP address or see if a user who searched one term also searched another.

In its own response, Google contends that supplying the information would violate the privacy of its users, as well as divulge trade secrets that could help its competitors. Company officials said they plan to fight the request, calling it "overreaching."

"We tried to strike the right balance in a very sensitive matter. Now that you have more information, you can be the judge," MSN's Moss said. But some users disagreed with that assessment.

"What if on the basis of the results you have given them, they subpoena you to produce IP details of specific queries that they find questionable?" wrote one MSN user. "This is a cop out and our privacy has been thrown out of the door and a window opened on our searches for all to see."

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