EU IP addresses as personal information?

I was reading the story on Yahoo! the other day about an German EU official who said that if you can identify someone via their IP address then it should be considered personal information and subject to privacy laws.  At first blush I thought this was potentially big news and that it could affect the way in which many companies do things.  Especially in the realm of user action tracking and ad serving.

But as I thought about it more, I realized it didn’t really mean anything.  Let’s say for example that the IP address is considered confidential in the EU.  All companies would do is turn it into a hash and start passing that around to track the actions or ads.  If you think about that a little deeper, you’d have to end up wondering how that’s any different from the IP address itself.  It is still a token that identifies the user.

IP addresses don’t tell you anything about the user other than perhaps the area in the world from which they came.  Its not an address, not a name, not even a way in which you could contact that user.  Unless the user owns the IP block or has it assigned to a domain name where someone could do a whois lookup.  But at that point the person has already released their information into the public domain and it is no longer considered private.

It seems to me that this is just another politician talking about a hot button issue that they probably don’t know much about.  Of course that has never stopped them from trying making laws.  Whether its reasonable or not, those of us in the Internet industry will be watching this… and then just go back to what we were doing because it doesn’t really make a difference.

Posted under Internet, Web Development

This post was written by Michael Tougeron on January 24, 2008

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