Can I See Some IP, Please?

Dennis Faas's picture

Internet Protocol addresses (IP) are used to identify computers and the actions they take on the Internet. IPs are routinely stored by search companies and other online businesses to help improve search results and provide advertisers with complete billing data. While this practice has been questioned before, with Google's pending bid to purchase advertiser DoubleClick, European leaders are taking a hard look at these business practices.

Peter Scharr, Germany's data-protection commissioner, believes that IPs are not just a tool for companies to use, but a form of personal identification that needs stricter protection under the law.

Police have been successful in tracking down web-based criminal activity by cross referencing an IP address with records held by Internet service providers. However, most IP addresses designated for home and personal use are typically dynamic, which makes it necessary to access two sets of records (the ISP records and website records) to identify a single computer. (Source:

Google argues that even though you may be able to identify a single computer with an IP, it is impossible to identify the operator of that computer at any given time. In addition, Google has taken measures to reduce the chance of identifying individuals. The search giant has begun to erase the final two digits of IP addresses to obscure the computer with 256 other possible configurations, and has reduced the amount of time it holds this information from 30 years down to 18 months.

European privacy laws are more stringent than those in the United States, and could carry some serious ramifications for how online companies store and manage user data. In hearings before the European Commission, Peter Fleischer, an attorney for Google fought for his company's ability to collect user data. "There is no black or white answer: sometimes an IP address can be considered as personal data and sometimes not, it depends on the context, and which personal information it reveals." Fleischer later added, "We have to know who is consulting what -- otherwise our business would not work." (Source:

As online economic activity continues to increase, lawmakers will be forced to find answers to privacy issues and whether or not corporations should be allowed to monitor the online activities of individuals, or at least their computers.

For Google's complete privacy policy Click Here.

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