Google and YouTube give U.S. courts your details

At the moment we’re seeing a number of online privacy issues, and the biggest debate at the moment is undoubtedly around companies giving your details to third parties. One such issue has arisen with Google as the studio Viacom force them to had over the IP addresses of all of the people who have accessed YouTube.

Yes you read that right, they have been ordered by a U.S. court to hand over the details of anyone who has ever watched a video on YouTube, no matter what country they are from.

A story in the Telegraph reveals the extent of the issue:

“Viacom accuses Google of allowing millions of users to illegally post and watch clips of its TV shows and films, such as South Park, on the popular video-sharing site, and is trying to build evidence that suggests that the sharing of illegal material on YouTube is the cornerstone of its business.

Google must now hand over a “user log” to Viacom. The log will contain users’ YouTube log-in details, the IP address of their computer – a unique code that identifies individual machines – plus details of all the video clips that users have viewed.

The judgment, which was made on Wednesday, could apply worldwide, and affect more than four million registered YouTube users, as well as potentially those who have simply watched clips.”

Thankfully Google has been trying to fight back:

“Google argues that it already far exceeds “its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works”, and that Viacom’s $1 billion (£500 million) lawsuit is a threat to internet freedom.

Google…said that it abided by the rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that as long as sites such as YouTube remove copyright content as soon as it is brought to their attention, they are protected by law from prosecution.”

However the U.S. judge ruled against them and said that the privacy concerns were speculative.

Now this raises a number of issues, not least that of U.S. courts ruling over the countries of the world. There’s the question as to whether that U.S. judge can really make a ruling to gather the private details of people around the world or not.

Imagine if this was regarding the telephone system and not the Internet, and a phone service, who had been called by people from around the world, was being taken to court in America, could they demand the details of all those foreign callers? Could they get their telephone numbers and then trace who they made the call from and who they were?

I’m not a lawyer, but I very much doubt that would be the case, and the telephone model is very much like the internet.

The other issue is that there’s probably a chance that you’ve watched a video on YouTubeand so you’re going to be on that list of people that Google, a company you have entrusted to store your details and not pass onto anyone, is going to hand over to a third party company who will now know who you are, where you are, and what IP address you use to access the internet.

So now Viacom, a television and film studio in America, will know which videos you’ve been looking at, and will also know your IP address for the future when you go to their site, are listed on file sharing applications, or are found anywhere on any of their lists of internet users for their companies.

You should hope that you haven’t been looking at anything questionable on YouTube. Imagine if something you did see is illegal in one country in the world, does this open up the law to allow your details to be passed onto that country, or a company in that country, to begin legal proceedings against you? Or at the very least to obtain your details and being storing them?

Pretty soon they’ll start matching them up together and we’ll have companies storing and sharing lists of every person around the world who has gone against their policies or illegally accessed or viewed content that they created.

Just after I wrote this offline I went to post it on the blog and saw a comment from Patrick under the Periodic Table Elements Song! story, and although the comment has a link to a different article it suddenly got me thinking, is that Periodic Table Element song copyrighted? Am I now going to be hunted down for displaying it and marketing it for them? Will I now be on the blacklists of Viacom and other companies?

It seems where the internet is concerned normal rules and laws do not apply, and your details are certainly not private, especially from U.S. courts.

In this case though, Viacom lay our fears to rest with the following comments to try and play down any fears YouTube users may have as their spokesperson said:

“Only our legal team will have access to this data…We will not be using to go after individuals.”

Wow. That puts me at ease. For a moment I thought they were handing the details over to their lawyers. Oh wait…

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