Yahoo joins Google: We want to stalk Americans for 18 months

Yahoo has announced that it will join Google in stalking Americans electronically in some form for 18 months (Yahoo had in 2008 reduced the amount of time it retained users’ Internet search data to a mere 90 days). Yahoo plans to extend the retention period this summer. Retained search data will include user’s IP addresses and cookies, which means data can be linked to individual devices or people. After 18 months, Yahoo will retain most of the data, but anonymize it so it cannot be linked to individuals.

Google has a slight variation in their policy which is being misreported in wake of this story: From Google: “We believe anonymizing IP addresses after 9 months and cookies in our search engine logs after 18 months strikes the right balance.” Stalkers do have some sense of decorum after all.

Email tracing: Finding out who is behind anonymous email accounts

Over the past few years, we have seen increasing numbers of cases involving requests to trace anonymous email accounts. Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, and countless other firms offer these sorts of free and anonymous accounts. Sometimes, the email headers have information that can help identify a city from where the emails were sent.

But increasingly, different databases are aggregating data in such a way that we can tie an IP address from the harassing email to a physical address; and then, using a 3rd database, confirm who resides at such an address and was likely the sender of the harassing emails. This is due to the practice of certain companies that log IP addresses and link them to physical addresses of customers who order items on the internet (and then sell the data to 3rd parties). As time passes, these databases are growing exponentially in power and scope--the Matrix of movie fame.

Following up with in-person interviews of the individuals, serving them a subpoena or summoning them to court usually solves the problem.