YouTube asked to hand over data

July 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
YouTube has been ordered to hand over detailed records on every one of its users. And all the videos they've been watching. If you've ever checked out YouTube, those records likely include you.

They want 12 terabytes worth of data which is a massive amount. By comparison, the print collection of the Library of Congress is said to be 10 terabytes. That's a lot of information, that many say if passed on, could be a serious violation of privacy.

Attention YouTube users! What you watch and when you watch it could soon become third party information.

A judge ordered the San Bruno-based online video-sharing service to turn over its database, linking its users to every clip they've ever seen.

"I would rather they not know. Confidentiality, just like emails I wouldn't want people to know what sites I go on period," said Quoya Flack, a YouTube user.

It's all part of a legal battle between Viacom and Google, which owns YouTube. Viacom is seeking at least $1 billion dollars in damages from the internet giant claiming YouTube violates copyrights on Viacom shows. That includes everything from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to "SpongeBob SquarePants."

"If it turns out that 80 percent of all video being seen on YouTube is in violation of the copyright law, then Viacom could argue that YouTube is fundamentally a copyright thief. If it turns out it's a small percentage, then YouTube could argue, 'Look, fundamentally we're here to share legitimate video and yes there are a few violations,'" said Larry Magid, a tech analyst.

The database which YouTube has been ordered to turn over, includes information on when each video is played, how often it's viewed, along with each viewers login ID and internet protocol, the address for that viewer's computer.

Kurt Opsahl is a senior staff attorney with the civil liberties group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, which may intervene in the case.

"What videos you watch says something about yourself. It may not be something you want revealed to the world, and Congress recognized that when they passed the Video Privacy Protection Act to make sure people are not being exposed in this manner," said Opsahl.

Viacom says any data they obtain will only be used for its lawsuit, but even if information does get passed around, some YouTube users aren't too worried about it.

"It's always been my philosophy to avoid watching anything you can't live up to," said Ivo Yueh, a YouTube user.

No data has been handed over yet. Google is asking the judge to reconsider his decision.


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