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YouTube/Viacom privacy followup (and what Google should do)

A brief update on the YouTube/Viacom privacy disaster.

From Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post:

Yesterday, lawyers for Google said they would not appeal the ruling. They sent Viacom a letter requesting that the company allow YouTube to redact user names and IP addresses from the data.

“We are pleased the court put some limits on discovery, including refusing to allow Viacom to access users’ private videos and our search technology,” Google senior litigation counsel Catherine Lacavera said in a statement. “We are disappointed the court granted Viacom’s overreaching demand for viewing history. We will ask Viacom to respect users’ privacy and allow us to anonymize the logs before producing them under the court’s order.”

I’m pleased to read that Google are trying to keep identifying information out of this (vast) dataset.

Viacom claim to want this data to “measure the popularity of copyrighted video against non-copyrighted video” (in the words of the Washington Post article; I don’t have a direct quote handy).

If that is the case, I suggest their needs could be met with a practical compromise. Google should make a public domain data dump summarising the (already public) favouriting history of each video (with or without reference to users, whose identifiers could be scrambled/obscured). This addresses directly the Viacom demand while sticking to the principle of relying on the public record to answer Viacom’s query. Only if the public record is incapable of answering Viacom’s (seemingly reasonable) request should users private behaviour logs be even considered. Google should also make use of their own Social Graph API to determine how many YouTube usernames are already associated in the public Web with other potentially identifying profile information; those usernames at least should not be handed over without at least some obfuscation.

If we know which YouTube videos are copyrighted (and Viacom owned). And we know how long they’ve been online, and which ones have been publicly flagged as ‘favourites’ by YouTube users, we have a massively rich dataset. I’d like to see that avenue of enquiry thoroughly exhausted before this goes any further.

Nearby in the Web: Danny Weitzner has blogged further thoughts on all this, including a pointer to a recent paper on information accountability, suggesting a possible shift of emphasis from who can access information, to the acceptable uses to which it may be put.

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