Judge Orders Google To Hand Over Visitor Information

This story was written by David Ryan, The Daily Athenaeum

A federal judge has ordered that the viewing information of every visitor to YouTube be handed over to media conglomerate Viacom, as part of a $1 billion lawsuit. The informationincludes usernames and computer addresses.

Viacom, who is suing the popular site for copyright infringement, has said that the information will only be used to prove its case against YouTube and nothing more.

Viacom has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user, Viacom said in a statement. Any information that we or our outside advisors obtain which will not include personally identifiable information will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against YouTube and Google, will be handled subject to a court protective order and in a highly confidential manner.

But that assurance has done nothing to calm the concerns of those who frequent YouTube and other video-sharing Web sites.

Marketing graduate student Erik Pietrowski visits video sites roughly five to seven times a week for entertainment purposes or to watch a video tutorial to help me with something Im working on.

Im not too concerned with their knowledge of what Ive watched, but I am concerned with the possibility of a privacy breach, he said. This lawsuit ... could expose private information concerning millions of YouTubes users.

Associate Professor of Law Michael Risch said that one potential outcome of Viacoms access to this information could be further suits against those who commit the actual copyright infringement by uploading content to YouTube.

The point of litigation investigation of this nature is to identify who is posting the copyrighted video in the first place, just like in the Recording Industry Association of America cases.

Indeed, Google says we arent doing anything wrong, its our users. Well, Viacom is taking the next step, Risch said.

Viacom originally filed suit against Google in 2007 due to use of copyrighted content on YouTube, including clips from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

Privacy concerns on the Internet is nothing new. Most Web sites often have privacy statements at the bottom which explain how the site uses the information of its users.

For that reason, Risch said people should approach their browsing with that in mind.

One can hope that information will remain private, but should never expect it, and all online activities should be based on that premise, he said.

For now, the potential for further litigation isnt going to change Pietrowskis viewing habits.

I will continue to support YouTube and other sites like it, he said. Id be the first to admit that Generation Next has little respect for copyright law, but perhaps companies like Viacom need to reevaluate their marketing strategy and find new ways to monetize their content.

In an era fueled by peer to peer sharing, Viacoms efforts to put a halt to digital evolution will most likely be in vain, he said.