This is the 4th of July, and I’m on the computer in the time between a picnic this morning and dinner and fireworks this evening. I was struck by the irony of an article in the New York Times on this Independence Day. The article is evidence of the chipping away at our individual liberties, fought for over the past 232 years at such enormous cost to American citizens.
The story has to do with a lawsuit between corporate giants Viacom and Google. The frightening part is that a federal judge has ordered Google to turn over to Viacom its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube. I personally wouldn’t be embarrassed if anyone knew which videos I’ve watched on YouTube, but I do not believe that my viewing habits are should be available to employees of Viacom (or Google, for that matter). What’s happening to our right to privacy? Does Google have to monitor everything we do? And can anyone who sues Google get access to all our personal information? This has got to stop somewhere. Here are excerpts from the article:
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.
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 amount of data covered by the order is staggering, as it includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April alone, 82 million people in the United States watched 4.1 billion clips there, according to comScore. Some experts say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.
Interestingly, Google has rejected demands by privacy groups for more stringent protections for I.P. address records, saying that in most cases the addresses cannot be used to identify users. Yet Google argued that YouTube viewing data should be kept from Viacom, in part, to protect the privacy of its users.
Judge Louis L. Stanton of the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over Viacom’s lawsuit against Google and YouTube, referenced Google’s past statements on I.P. addresses to conclude that its “privacy concerns are speculative.”
“It is an ‘I told you so’ moment,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington.