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Viacom and Google: Stealing Your Privacy
By: Bruce Coker
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    2008-07-23

    Table of Contents:
  • Viacom and Google: Stealing Your Privacy
  • Useless information
  • Hostile to privacy?
  • Don't be evil

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    Viacom and Google: Stealing Your Privacy


    (Page 1 of 4 )

    The long-running dispute between Viacom and YouTube owner Google took another twist last week, with a court ruling by Judge Louis Stanton that Google must hand over to Viacom the personal details of everyone who has ever watched a video on the video sharing web site. The judge accepted Viacomís claim that its lawyers need the data, which is to include IP and email addresses along with the history of every video on the site, to build their case in support of the media giantís $1 billion law suit against Google.

    The judgment has raised concerns that it could set an extraordinary precedent, possibly opening the way for more Internet companies to be sued for the data they hold about their visitors. Whether or not this is the case, it is certainly true that Viacom has succeeded where even the US government has failed by persuading a court to require the release of identifying data about individual web surfers, whose personal details have been protected until now.

    The most important protection is provided by the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), which was introduced to protect renters of "video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials" from having "personally identifiable information" wrongfully disclosed by rental service providers. Google cited the VPPA when arguing against the judgment, but the court was impervious to the argument, apparently regarding online audio-visual content as substantially different from video tapes.

    This aspect of the judgment alone is enough to raise significant concerns. The VPPA specifically requires that when a request is made for such information, consumers must be given the opportunity to contest the claim. YouTube customers have been given no such opportunity, and it will be interesting to see how many individuals seek legal redress against the consequences of the court's decision.

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