Friday, July 04, 2008

Viacom battle with Google threatens privacy

In a move that has rocked internet users across the world a judge has ruled that Google must hand private data over to the media giant Viacom. The company has fought long and hard against what it calls widespread copyright infringement and has demanded the Google give it information connected with the video website You Tube. The 12 terabytes of data would include user names and IP [internet protocol] addresses as well as a list of videos viewed by each user. Many groups have criticised the move as a step too far with regards privacy invasion and there has already been cals by some You Tube users to boycott Viacom products, programmes, channels and even products advertised on their channels.

Google have asked that they strip the private information before handing it over to Viacom but have not yet received a response from the media company which started legal action against the internet giant in 2007. Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the ruling a "set-back to privacy rights" saying it “will allow Viacom to see what you are watching on YouTube. We urge Viacom to back off this overbroad request and Google to take all steps necessary to challenge this order and protect the rights of its users." The body said the ruling was also potentially unlawful because the log data did contain personally identifiable data. Leading privacy expert Simon Davies told BBC News that the privacy of millions of YouTube users was threatened but that Google had not reacted to threat sooner. “The chickens have come home to roost for Google. Their arrogance and refusal to listen to friendly advice has resulted in the privacy of tens of millions being placed under threat."

Mr Davies said privacy campaigners had warned Google for years that IP addresses were personally identifiable information. Google pledged last year to make IP addresses anonymous for search information but it has said nothing about YouTube data. Mr Davies said, "Governments and organisations are realising that companies like Google have a warehouse full of data. And while that data is stored it is under threat of being used and putting privacy in danger."

The threat to privacy by large companies handing over data to authorities is well documented. In 2005 Yahoo was highly criticised after it handed data to Chinese authorities resulting in the arrest of at least one Chinese journalists. Shi Tao was jailed after Yahoo helped Chinese officials identify him. He was jailed for sending on to foreign websites an e-mail from the ruling Communist Party warning journalists not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004. He was tracked down and jailed for 10 years for subversion after Yahoo passed on his e-mail and IP address to officials. Another man, Wang Xiaoning, was also given a 10 year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power" after publishing pro-democracy material online. He too had been traced using information handed over by the internet company Yahoo [BBC].

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