One more confirmation that privacy, especially as it relates to your online activities, does not exist:
Google must divulge the viewing habits of every user who has ever watched any video on YouTube, a US court has ruled.
The ruling comes as part of Google’s legal battle with Viacom over allegations of copyright infringement.
Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the ruling a “set-back to privacy rights”.
The viewing log, which will be handed to Viacom, contains the log-in ID of users, the computer IP address (online identifier) and video clip details.
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.
The EFF is monitoring the case:
The court’s order grants Viacom’s request and erroneously ignores the protections 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 passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection.
You have to wonder if Viacom will launch lawsuits against YouTube users once they have this data in hand.
The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson notes my concerns and points to an equally troubled Christopher Dawson:
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but a lot of people watch videos on YouTube. While Viacom claims that it only wants the logs to determine if more people, in the aggregate, watch videos that infringe on copyrights than original materials, there is nothing to stop Viacom from using the data RIAA-style to go after users.
What if teachers in your schools showed a video they found on YouTube that contained content from an MTV broadcast? Or a documentary produced by a Viacom property?
I’m looking forward to a statement from Viacom concerning their intentions. Are they going take legal action against YouTube users? Can they share and or sell this data and do they intend to do so? Do they intend to make any of it public? How will they secure the data once it’s in their possession? If you’re a YouTube user you might want to contact Viacom to express your displeasure.
The Motley Fool has a warning for Viacom in what it’s calling one of the week’s dumbest stock moves:
This move should not be interpreted as a sign that Viacom will be suing individual YouTube users, though privacy activists will rightfully rake Viacom over the coals. Here you have a media giant that leans on viral videos from time to time through VH-1 and its comedy news shows, and now it’s going for the YouTube jugular? Anyone remember when the major record labels began demanding user IP data and suing individual file swappers? Life hasn’t worked out so well for the music companies since then, has it?
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has a few words for the judge as well:
I say this with the utmost respect, but Judge Stanton is a moron.
There is some good news. The court has placed strict limitations on Viacom’s use of the data:
The court’s protective order stipulates that data turned over to Viacom by Google must be used for the sole purpose of proving Viacom’s claim against Google that YouTube is a hotbed of pirated video content, the sources said. Viacom will not have direct access to the YouTube user data, the source said. Access is restricted to outside counsel and experts.
Viacom, therefore, is forbidden from targeting individual users in the manner of the RIAA’s lawsuits against individuals found to be downloading illegal music.
Good news, but there are still extremely troubling precedents being set here and who’s to say how user data will be used in future cases?