Seriously, You Have No Privacy. Get Over It.

Published on July 3, 2008
by John Paczkowski

So much for privacy on YouTube.

The federal judge presiding over Viacom’s (VIA) $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google (GOOG) and YouTube denied a motion for the pair to produce their source code Wednesday. “YouTube and Google should not be made to place this vital asset in hazard merely to allay speculation,” U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton wrote.

Apparently he didn’t feel quite as strongly about the privacy of YouTube users because he felt entirely comfortable turning that over to the media company. And so he ordered Google to provide Viacom with YouTube’s Logging database, which 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. That database (which is stored on live computer hard drives) is the only existing record of how often each video has been viewed during various time periods.”

To Stanton such data isn’t a “vital asset,” although the authors of the Video Privacy Protection Act and anyone else with an interest in personal privacy would likely disagree. Said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “The Court’s erroneous ruling is a setback 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.”

And Google will almost certainly do that. But it may have its work cut out for it, because in this case it’s fighting not just Viacom and the presiding court, but itself. You see, in granting Viacom’s request for YouTube’s Logging database, Stanton cited Google’s own argument that IP addresses aren’t always personal data. “Defendants argue that the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns, saying that ‘Plaintiffs would likely be able to determine the viewing and video uploading habits of YouTube’s users based on the user’s login ID and the user’s IP address,’ ” Stanton wrote. “But defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative. Defendants do not refute that the ‘login ID is an anonymous pseudonym that users create for themselves when they sign up with YouTube,’ which without more ‘cannot identify specific individuals,’ and Google has elsewhere stated:

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.”

Google Software Engineer Alma Whitten, Are IP addresses personal?, GOOGLE PUBLIC POLICY BLOG (Feb. 22, 2008)

Ironic, no?

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