Viacom wants to know what you are watching on YouTube
July 2, 2008 Leave a comment
The beginning of the end, via Wired on July 2, 2008:
Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users’ names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyrighted videos to appear on YouTube, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Sure, right now they are just suing Google and Youtube, but Jammie Thomas probably has a different perspective on where this can lead. Via Wired on June 30, 2008:
The Recording Industry Association of America on Monday urged a federal judge to leave intact a $222,000 jury verdict against Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota mother of two who has become a public symbol of the RIAA’s litigation campaign of more than 20,000 copyright lawsuits against peer-to-peer file sharers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more about the Video Privacy Protection Act and the recent decision against YouTube:
In any event, the court ordered production of not just IP addresses, but also all the associated information in the Logging database. Whatever might be said about ‘an IP address without additional information,’ the the AOL search history leak fiasco shows that the material viewed by a user alone can be sufficient to identify the user, even with neither a login nor an IP address.
The Court’s erroneous ruling is a set-back to privacy rights, and will allow Viacom to see what you are watching on YouTube. We urge Google to take all steps necessary to challenge this order and protect the rights of its users.
The twit thinks running around like the room’s on fire is a perfectly appropriate response to this news.
update: From the BBC on July 3, 2008:
While the legal battle between the two firms is being contested in the US, it is thought the ruling will apply to YouTube users and their viewing habits everywhere.
… Leading privacy expert Simon Davies told BBC News that the privacy of millions of YouTube users was threatened.
He said: “The chickens have come home to roost for Google.
“Their arrogance and refusal to listen to friendly advice has resulted in the privacy of tens of millions being placed under threat.”
Mr Davies said privacy campaigners had warned Google for years that IP addresses were personally identifiable information.
Google pledged last year to anonymise IP addresses for search information but it has said nothing about YouTube data.
update: From the Guardian on July 4, 2008:
The court’s decision also means that Viacom has succeeded in getting hold of exactly the same sort information that the American government has failed to access in the past.
In 2006, the US department of justice asked Google to reveal information on millions of web searches conducted on its website, as part of a wide-ranging investigation into illegal activity online. Google challenged the order and successfully fought it off in court, arguing that such a move would invade users’ privacy and expose commercially sensitive information.
In a statement yesterday, Google said it would lobby for the data it provides to be scrubbed clean of personal information.
update: From the International Herald Tribune on July 4, 2008:
Google and Viacom said they were hoping to come up with a way to protect the anonymity of the site’s visitors.
Viacom also said that the information would be safeguarded by a protective order restricting access to the data to outside lawyers, who will use it solely to press Viacom’s $1 billion copyright lawsuit against Google.
Still, the judge’s order, made public late Wednesday, renewed concerns among privacy advocates that Internet companies like Google are collecting unprecedented amounts of private information that could be misused or fall unexpectedly into the hands of third parties.
“These very large databases of transactional information become honey pots for law enforcement or for litigants,” said Chris Hoofnagle, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.
… The amount of data covered by the order is staggering, as it includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April alone, 82 million people in the United States watched 4.1 billion clips there, according to comScore, a market research firm that tracks Internet use.
Some experts say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.
While the current lawsuit may only be aimed at Google to show how much copyright-infringing material is on YouTube as compared to “user generated” content, since the information identifying users exists, it seems logical that the next series of lawsuits would be related to making Google produce those records so Viacom can then go after individual violators like the RIAA has. Not to get paranoid or anything, but these are gigantic corporations we’re talking about…
The twit would love to join a class action lawsuit against Google if anyone’s got one…
Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), isn’t satisfied by the ostensible legal walls protecting Google’s data. “I don’t think anyone’s arguing that Viacom’s planning to make any other use of the data [than proving copyright infringement.] But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Google says its data remains in its control and isn’t given to third parties, and that’s simply not true.”
… EPIC’s Rotenberg says the court ruling Wednesday confirms the dangers of tracking Web users’ behavior too closely. “This is exactly the problem we’ve been describing for years,” he says. “Google retains too much information about users, and as a consequence, has placed privacy at risk.”
Just tell a twit where to sign…
Thankfully, it looks like the EU has laws with some teeth, so please get on it y’all, you can do this:
The EU’s Article 29 Data Protection Working Party concluded earlier this year that companies such as Google, Microsoft Corp and Yahoo Inc must cut the time they keep the data to comply with EU privacy laws. The group had earlier told Google it may be violating EU privacy laws by preserving user data for as long as two years.
In the meantime, here’s a suggestion about how to protect your user information:
Reacting to the case, Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes reminded web users to ensure they remove all personal information from the web, when possible.
“As users, we must take responsibility to use the tools available to us to guard our privacy. This includes availing of the option to delete your search history on search engines and, indeed, the history of videos viewed on websites such as YouTube,” said Mr Hawkes.
Changing your UserID at Youtube would be another precaution, if it contains personally identifiable information:
Although the judge cited a post on the Official Google Blog, which stated that in most cases an IP address and user name aren’t enough to identify a user, that assertion isn’t entirely accurate, according to Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and an expert in digital privacy.
Many people include parts of their name, their birthday or other personal information in their user IDs on the Internet, which could be used to identify a user, he said.
Whether these kinds of steps are too little, too late remains to be seen…
The twit does have a theory, not intended as legal advice in any way, but in thinking about the concept of “fair use,” the exception to copyright infringement, it has always seemed that due to the limitation on the length a video can be at the site, as well as the ability to comment at YouTube, what may look on the surface as boldfaced copyright infringement may actually be protected activity, since all of the videos are subject to comment, criticism and all those lovely things that flow as an exception to the draconian copyright laws. This would be different than p2p file sharing that just transfers copyrighted music files, because YouTube is a forum for discussion.
and here is the twit’s favorite cartoon mash-up about “fair use” and copyright law:
update: The BBC reports on July 15, 2008 that Viacom has backed down:
“We are pleased to report that Viacom, MTV and other litigants have backed off their original demand for all users’ viewing histories and we will not be providing that information,” said a statement on the YouTube blog.
The decision will be welcomed by privacy activists, many of whom expressed concern over a US judge’s order for Google to provide the data in early July.
not that the concern goes away just because Viacom has decided to stand down for now. After all, they still won the legal authority to obtain access to the viewing histories. And besides, they don’t seem to need it right now to sue Google. They would only need it to sue individual YouTube users, so they certainly have the time to wait and see how their lawsuit with Google turns out, without having to fight over this kind of legal issue right now.
It does seem possible that if Google and Youtube win and avoid any liability for alleged copyright infringement, individual users would be the logical next target for Viacom…