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All your tubes are belong to us

Posted on | July 6, 2008 | No Comments

If you didn’t get the joke in the title, read this. Its official, Google is compelled by a court ruling to convey over 12 terabytes of YouTube access logs to Viacom. The logs contain the viewing histories of all YouTube users. It is not yet clear if Viacom will permit Google to `anonymise’ the logs prior to handing them over.

The whole fuss is over Google profiting through advertisements that are shown along side `boot legged’ copyrighted media that was uploaded to YouTube and not deleted by YouTube administrators. The more I think about this, the more obnoxious in my mind Google becomes.

Though Google says that making YouTube profitable is top priority, I can’t help but suspect ulterior motives behind the 1.6 billion dollar purchase. If you stop and think about it, data that tracks what users enjoy watching and where they lost interest (while being in control of everything that they saw) is far more valuable to a search and advertising giant than any revenue that a single site could generate. How much would Google have to spend to collect 12 TB worth of this kind of data? While I’m sure they hope YouTube will profit, I can’t forget that such usage logs are worth their weight in gold – ask Viacom.

Google really got its hand caught in the cookie jar this time. If they had simply addressed the issue by being more proactive about policing uploaded content, this would never have happened. They wanted the content because the content gets them the data that they so desperately need to fine tune their practice of tracking user behavior to display relevant advertisements. Why else would YouTube have gone so grossly under policed?

Because of their irresponsible management of YouTube, we now have case precedents that can be used to argue for similar rulings. I am in no way defending Viacom, I think that their demands go way beyond `overreaching’. Google left the door wide open for this kind of litigation to succeed, its equally irresponsible to not hold them accountable.

This case made me think about the RIAA trying to sue a homeless man for illegal downloading. Tell me, if you watch a copyrighted sports recap on YouTube, are you not doing the same thing? Viacom has pledged to not use information in these logs as a means to start litigation against end users', does this term also allude to theend users’ who uploaded the copyrighted content? I love these ambiguous buzzwords.

If you can not be responsible enough to safe guard this kind of personally identifiable information, you have no business collecting and archiving it. Viacom in this scenario is incidental, if it wasn’t them it would be someone else. What remains constant in this scenario is Google leaving the door wide open.

A lot of people are citing the Video Privacy Protection Act, however YouTube is not a video store, real video stores have a license to profit from distributing copyrighted media.

I sincerely hope that this never happens again. If your business model entails `cavalier’ lawyering, its usually best to find some other business. This is especially true if part of your business entails and critically depends upon safe guarding user data.


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