The European Union's top security official lauded Google Inc's. decision to scale back how long it keeps personally identifiable data accumulated from its Web users as a step towards addressing privacy concerns.

The world's top provider of Web search services said this week it was ready to curtail the time it stored user data to a year and a half, seeking to mollify an EU watchdog that has questioned its privacy policies.

That was the low end of an 18- to 24-month period it had originally proposed to regulators in March.

I think it is indeed a good step, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini told a news conference in Luxembourg.

It is good to see Google (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) trying to meet our expectations, he said, also welcoming Google's announcement to explore ways to redesign cookies and reduce their expiration.

Cookies are the text files inserted on any computer visiting a site that leave a data trail for statisticians and marketers to monitor.

The European Union data watchdog, made up of national data protection supervisors of the bloc's 27 member states, said in May Google seemed to be failing to respect EU privacy rules and asked for clarification before its next meeting in mid-June.

It is an advisory body which is independent from the European Commission. A spokeswoman for the watchdog said last month it would not take a final decision on whether Google may be violating European privacy laws before October.

Each time a Google user searches the Web, the company gathers information about that customer's tastes, interests and beliefs that could potentially be used by third parties such as advertisers. Google shares general user statistics but is adamant it never shares personal data outside the company.

Retention of personal data was from the very beginning one concern of the European Commission, Frattini said.

Google has more than 60 percent of the world's Web search business, market research groups estimate.

Other household Internet names -- including Inc, AOL, Apple Inc., eBay Inc. Microsoft Corp. and MySpace -- have yet to disclose any limits on how long they retain consumer data, according to a report by a rights group.

A preliminary report released over the weekend by Privacy International accused Google of being the most hostile to data protections of any major Internet company, a charge that the company is seeking aggressively to rebut.