The European Commission welcomed the reduction in data retention times by Google for people's search data, but it urged the company and its rivals to go even further in order to safeguard European citizens' privacy, the regulator said on Thursday.

Google said on Tuesday it would cut retention times to nine months, from 18 months, in a bid to address regulators' concerns about data protection. By comparison, Microsoft MSN stores search data for 18 months and Yahoo keeps it for 13 months.

Commission vice president Jacques Barrot said in a statement that the decision by Google is "a step in the right direction", but added that a six-month search data retention period should be the target for all search engines.

Barrot also praised Google for the transparent way it communicates its privacy policy to users. "The awareness of users and the principle of transparency are essential elements in enhancing their trust," he said.

Global privacy counsel at Google, Peter Fleicher, said the Commission statement shows that it understands there needs to be a trade-off between greater protection of privacy and more innovation.

"We appreciate the Commission's commitment to maintaining the capacity of search engines to innovate in order to keep up with the web's exponential growth by delivering better, more relevant search results. We will continue to work closely with the Commission and data protection authorities throughout Europe to bolster confidence in internet privacy," he said.

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