Thursday, July 03, 2008

Viacom Granted Access to All YouTube User Data: Court

Last night the federal court for the Southern District of New York ordered Google to hand over (.PDF) user data for all videos watched on YouTube to Viacom, stating:
Plaintiffs seek all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website.
Red flag, right? This means your privacy, assuming you've ever watched anything on YouTube, has gone out the window. As users should have assumed, and as confirmed by the ruling (.PDF),
Defendants’ “Logging” database contains, for each instance a video is watched, the unique “login ID” of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer (“IP address”), and the identifier for the video.
Viacom said it wants the data so it can prove that copyrighted material is far more popular than user-created videos. Think about it though. Why do they need user data ... shouldn't they just need data about the number of times copyrighted material was uploaded and watched, not who watched it?

I don't know about you, but generally I don't login to YouTube, so they won't be getting my user ID - but they will be getting my IP address. Oh, but let's not forget that Google themselves said that IP addresses are not personal information.

As detailed, or rather, used against them by Viacom and noted in the ruling:
We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chimed in (thank you), indicating that this was a clear violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and
threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users.
The VPPA says:
A video tape service provider who knowingly discloses, to any person, personally identifiable information concerning any consumer of such provider shall be liable to the aggrieved person for the relief provided in subsection (d).
Unfortunately, this is another of those laws that needs to be reworded for the digital age. Obviously these aren't video tapes, but the idea is the same, right? Oh, wait, it even says:
prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials
Hmmm. Perhaps the court missed that?

Oh, well. Privacy goes out the window. Not that I generally care if people know what I watch on YouTube, but the question now arises: could Viacom sue end users IDed through this process?

Some have said, yes they could. Honestly, if they wanted to, probably. I mean, I'm watching copyrighted material, right which was uploaded illegally, right? Sound BitTorrent-ish to anyone?

However, it's been reported by a source close to Viacom that they have been ordered to use all this data only for the purpose of proving copyright infringement against YouTube. Viacom is forbidden from targeting individual users, under penalty of possible contempt of court charges.

It should be noted that the court denied Viacom’s request for YouTube’s source code. Once again John / Jane Q. Public gets stabbed in the back while the corporation is protected.

I still want to know why they really need any of this user data, as I indicated above, to prove the amount of copyrighted material uploaded or viewed.

Maybe they just want to figure out our viewing habits so they can target ads to us? Right.

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