The Invisible Web

Your Trip Into the Chapel Perilous

Court Ruling Will Expose Viewing Habits of YouTube Users

Posted by invizweb on July 5, 2008

On July 2nd, the following article was written by Kurt Opsahl for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Yesterday, in the Viacom v. Google litigation, the federal court for the Southern District of New York ordered Google to produce to Viacom (over Google’s objections):

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

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.

The Logging database 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.

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.”

In a footnote, the Court references the VPPA, noting that the federal law “prohibits video tape service providers from disclosing information on the specific video materials subscribers request or obtain.” It is possible that the reference to “video tapes” in the VPPA was confusing. However, the Act is not limited to the technology available at the time of its enactment.

Read more.

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