Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday it would shorten the time it stores Internet users' addresses from Web search queries from 18 months to six months following a request from a European Union data privacy panel.
It said the change would make its Bing search a better choice for privacy-conscious users than the world's leading search engine Google Inc., because Microsoft will delete the entire Internet Protocol address from search queries — the string of numbers that shows a computer's location. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
"We believe that the balance between privacy and efficiency is very much in the mind of consumers," Microsoft's associate general counsel John Vassallo told reporters. "Getting the balance right does make the search engine more attractive."
Microsoft says its search engine has some 2 percent of the European market, well below Google on 80 percent.
Google says keeping data from search queries is important to improving the way it processes search results and "represents a crucial arm in our battle to protect the security of our services against hacks and frauds."
It says it makes users' search details anonymous after nine months and allows people see and control some of the information that is stored on their searches.
Yahoo says it deletes IP addresses and makes user log data anonymous after 90 days, with some exceptions to fight fraud, secure systems and meet legal obligations.
EU data protection officials have questioned the need for search engines to keep data on searches and had asked for a six-month limit.
Microsoft's announcement comes days after the German government warned users against Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser until it fixes a security flaw.
The company will also likely see more competition for the browser, the most widely used, when European users start to see a box urging them to choose between Internet Explorer and rival browsers in coming months — a move that helped end an EU antitrust investigation into the browser.