Search company Yahoo! has announced its intention to extend user data for 18 months to meet the needs of its clients. Currently, the data is only retained for 90 days before it is made anonymous. This change is expected to take place sometime this summer.
Will this enable litigants to extract data from Yahoo! when a lawsuit arises? Probably not. Yahoo! will maintain all user search data for an indefinite period of time. However, under the new policy, Yahoo! will anonymize that data after 18 months. This means that all identifying particulars will be removed from the users’ data upon the expiration of the 18 month period.
Finding specific user data prior to the end of 18 months will be the equivalent of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack assuming it is possible at all. Thus, subpoenas to Yahoo! (or any search provider) are usually not the recommended course of action as they are rarely worth the effort. Rather, the better route is usually to access the target user’s computer directly which in turn requires prompt litigation hold letters and other established procedures.