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If you've used YouTube, look out!

4 July 2008

You can learn a lot about a person by watching what they do online.

And, given the huge variety and depth of material on YouTube, what better way to gain a pretty accurate profile of an individual than to examine their YouTube browsing history.

A quick look at my YouTube Channel shows that I've watched almost 3,500 videos in the two years since I joined.

If you sat down and analysed what those videos were, you'd probably be able to fairly accurately determine my interests, my tastes in music, my preferred genre of TV programme, the goods and services I might be inclined to purchase and a host of other useful stuff.

So clearly, with probably hundreds of millions of YouTubers around, that information is worth a fortune - and not a small one.

So what I read on the newswires today has me more than a little worried.

According to reports, a US court has ordered Google to hand over the viewing habits of every user who has ever watched any video on the site.

And the recipient of that court-ordered hand-over is Viacom, a video and movie publisher in the USA.

So, if Google follows the court's order, pretty soon, the details of every video you (and anyone else) have ever watched on YouTube will be in the hands of a company who really should have no access to such information.

An indication that Viacom isn't after this information solely for the purposes of enforcing its copyright became very clear when it also demanded that the source code for the entire YouTube system also be handed over.

Now, since I'm not into the seedier side of online life and have not watched anything I'm ashamed of online, I'm not worried that anyone should know about my YouTube viewing history - but I am deeply concerned about the principle that such private information should be handed over to a third party under orders of the court.

And exactly why does Viacom need this information anyway?

If they're attempting to establish the scale of the losses they might have experienced as a result of their copyrighted material being illegally placed on YouTube then all they need are the totals, not the level of detail they're seeking.

Surely it would be more responsible for the court to order an independent and trustworthy third-party to receive the data and calculate the totals which would then be handed to Viacom. There simply is no reason why Viacom ought to be the recipient of this mass of personal information.

And what a precedent this sets...

If you post a video to your website in WMF or some other format and suddenly find that it's been lifted and put on YouTube. Will you also be entitled to receive some 12 terabytes of history logs, detailing the exact viewing history of every YouTube user? One would expect so if this order is enforced.

And what if the US government wants to do some profiling to pick up terror suspects for vacation in Guantanimo Bay? Will they simply scan the same data for anyone who's viewed terror-related footage?

So do *you* ever provide accurate details when registering on websites that are likely to track your personal viewing or communications?

Is it a good idea to always lie blatantly about who you are, how old you are and where you are when opening a free email or other type of online account?

It would seem that to do so is now a decidedly good idea.

Has the US court really over-stepped the mark with this order?

Will you still use YouTube in the wake of this case -- or will you simply create a new bogus account for your YouTube viewing?

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