From a privacy standpoint, this was troubling on a number of levels. First and foremost, our Internet searches can be used to create stunningly detailed profiles of our activities, preferences and political inclinations -- information that most of us would rather not have fall into the wrong hands. Second, the legal standards limiting the government's ability to obtain access to that information are perilously weak, leaving us exposed to the potential of getting swept up in investigative dragnets.
There are some legitimate purposes -- such as combating "click fraud" and improving the search experience -- for which companies may need to retain some customer data for a limited period. But as we're beginning to see with these recent announcements, those needs can be met without long-term retention of sensitive information.
Righting the privacy balance in this country will require a combination of legal, educational and industry initiatives. By themselves, these announcements don't create a tectonic shift in the American privacy landscape. But they are an extremely important step in the right direction.
Leslie Harris is the president of the Center for Democracy & Technology (http://www.cdt.org), a nonprofit advocacy group that works to preserve democratic values and constitutional freedoms in the Internet age. Visit CDT's blog, PolicyBeta (http://blog.cdt.org) for regular updates on high-tech policy issues.