Have you ever had one of those nights where you are sitting in front of your computer planning to look up one little video? Say, a particular Radiohead performance (you can thank me later for this one), or something funny that your friend suggested you look up; and three hours later find yourself musing over an America’s Funniest Home Videos montage set to a Huey Lewis and the News song of playful kitty cats doing those hilarious kitty cat things.
Of course you have.
And somewhere in between Radiohead and wily kitty cats you have squirmed before a series of brutal face plants, giggled over a pile of hamsters stuffing their faces with broccoli and laughed hysterically at the unbelievably lame Cobra Commander music video circa 1986 GI Joe (YouTube ‘Cold Slither’ and once again, thank me later). It is the nature of YouTube to keep you clicking to new videos so that in the span of an evening, you might have viewed hundreds of random videos, even if it’s only for a second (for example, when you stumble upon some struggling musician offering his own personal acoustic cover of Knocking on Heaven’s Door – you won’t be there for long).
Now, can you imagine if the (shameful) amount of time you spend on Youtube.com and the exact things that you have clicked on were made public? It would be mortifying. Not necessarily due to the actual videos you have looked up, as I’m sure that there are far more embarrassing things that one could have been looking up than America’s Funniest Home Video montages, but just the idea that these statistics have been made public – it would make you feel downright scandalized.
Unfortunately, it seems as though this will become the fate of YouTube.com users. This week the courts declared that Google was obligated to disclose the records of every video viewed by YouTube users, including users’ names and IP addresses to Viacom. This billion dollar lawsuit against Google, starting in March 2007, is for their allowing clips of Viacom’s copyright videos to appear on YouTube.
Many people believe that this is an incredibly intrusive violation of rights, although the ruling judge deemed the issues of privacy to be ‘speculative’ and as a result, Google has had to hand over the YouTube.com user viewing habits that reside on the logs of four tera-byte hard drives. Google has also had to turn over millions of videos however, the judge denied Viacom’s request for titles, keywords, comments, and flags for inappropriate content, ruling that the request was too broad. He also stated that private videos uploaded by a user sharing with one other user are protected under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great analysis of what went down during the court proceedings as well as links to some interesting article about privacy violations. Also, a lot of the articles that have covered this recent issue carry some really interesting feedback in the comments sections from people just like you and I who feel concerned that their love of people falling down, smashing their faces or anything that America’s Funniest Home Videos could assemble a montage of will be exposed to the world.