A ruling released July 1st in the copyright infringement case Viacom v. Google has created a stir in the online world. Judge Louis L. Stanton in the U.S. federal New York Southern District Court ordered Google to produce to Viacom:
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
According to a July 2nd blog post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):
Google correctly argued that “the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns,” citing the VPPA, 18 U.S.C. § 2710. However, the Court dismissed this argument with no analysis, stating “defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative.”
The order raised concerns among YouTube users and privacy advocates that the video viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed. But 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 suit against Google.
Still, the judge’s order, which was 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 Privacy Commissioner of Canada blog puts a Canadian spin on the issue:
Will Canadians viewing YouTube have their histories handed over as well? Almost certainly as US federal law provides no privacy protections for ‘personal data submitted to search engines or for IP addresses’. The Globe and Mail has reported that “the judge set no specific geographic limitations on the data Google must produce, meaning user names and Internet protocol (IP) addresses of millions of Canadians and other YouTube users outside the U.S. could also be at risk.”
Can an IP address be used to isolate individuals? Quite easily. Have you been accessing illegal content online? We hope not, now that Viacom’s lawyers have your number.
- Viacom v. YouTube Complaint – reposted to JD Supra, originally filed March 13, 2007
Viacom’s Statement on YouTube User Data Controversy, Deeplinks Blog, Electronic Frontier Foundation (July 3, 2008)
- Faster Forward: Court Invites Viacom to Violate YouTube Viewers’ Privacy, by Robert Pegoraro, Washington Post (July 7, 2008)
- Viacom v. YouTube filings, Justia.com