As you probably know, early this month, a judge ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to turn over to Viacom records of which users watched which videos on YouTube. (Google Told to Turn Over User Data of YouTube by Miguel Helft, New York Times, July 4, 2008.) As the Times noted, “The amount of data covered by the order is staggering, as it includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April alone, 82 million people in the United States watched 4.1 billion clips there…. Some experts say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.”
What relevance does this have for documents librarians and government-information-using-citizens? Simply, this: whenever an information provider collects and retains records of information use it puts the privacy of information users at risk regardless of its own intentions. As an editorial in the Los Angeles Times said yesterday:
…the lawsuit illustrates how YouTube threatens its users’ privacy simply by collecting and retaining so much data. Just because Viacom isn’t interested in users’ identities doesn’t mean that other copyright holders, law enforcement agencies or aggrieved parties won’t be.
Stanton’s order is a reminder that websites shouldn’t retain personally identifiable data any longer than the law or their services require. Google argues that the data enable it to improve its services, combat fraud and personalize offerings. Its approach, though, reflects an engineer’s habit of hoarding information for the sake of as-yet-unimagined features, not the cautious practices of a privacy-conscious company.
— Why is YouTube hoarding data?, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008.
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