Youtube & Potentially Personally Identifying Information


<>< Josh Rule : : 2008 MCPP Intern

A U.S. legal battle between Google and entertainment giant Viacom could have worldwide ramifications (but it probably won’t).  The court recently ruled that the Google-owned Youtube must release a log of of every video ever watched on the site.  Youtube has served billions of video views, and each time a user clicks on a video to watch it, an entry is recorded in Youtube’s digital log.  In it are recorded the username of the viewer if they are signed in, as well as the video watched, and the IP address from which the video is watched, among other information.  All this data will soon be provided to the court and to Viacom.  Viacom hopes to use the information to prove that users prefer to watch copyrighted material, illegally posted on Youtube, over the uncopyrighted material the site was designed to host. 

The reason such a ruling makes it here onto Trying Liberty, though, is that usernames and IP addresses are potentially personally identifying information.  IP addresses, particularly, can link a specific view of a specific clip on Youtube back to a specific computer somewhere in the world.  Indeed, the physical mailing address at which the video was watched can often be determined quite accurately with only the IP address recorded in Youtube’s log files.  Providing more than 12 TB of logs (about 10 TB would hold the entire Library of Congress) also provides a wealth of IP addresses and exposes the viewing habits of millions of Youtube users.  Such a massive data transfer could be claimed as an invasion of privacy, as it potentially links specific people to having watched specific videos on Youtube.

The question is, though, will an actual invasion of privacy take place through this transfer?  The answer is no, no invasion of privacy will take place.  Youtube explicitly says in its Privacy Policy that it will record IP addresses and usernames.  So, those who believe such recording to be unethical or a violation of privacy should simply stop using Youtube.  Otherwise, they have implicitly given consent to have potentially personally identifying information recorded along with their viewing habits.  Whether or not that is an issue is up to personal preference, as are most decisions about the freedoms humans possess.

(Thanks to BBC News for the story.)

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2 thoughts on “Youtube & Potentially Personally Identifying Information

  1. Back when I was a kid, the RCIA tried to crack down on illegal mp3 distribution and downloads. The incentive structure, however, could not be overcome: Teens got tired of paying $20 for one song — for most of us, that was too steep a price to acquire our audio library. It was when iTunes provided a way for the music industry to embrace new technology instead of try to squelch it that the situation was solved. (I was skeptical at first, because I knew few teens whose parents would give them their credit card to buy stuff on the internet, but when I saw iTunes cards at Target, I knew the problem was solved.)

    Deterrent isn’t enough. I’m not saying illegal downloads and viewings are OK; I’m simply saying that the industry would do better to find a way to provide affordable, reliable video streams or something of the sort. ITunes already offers movies for download, but that’s not quite the same thing.

  2. Pingback: Youtube/Viacom Update « Trying Liberty

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