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Viacom/YouTube Battle Threatens to Trample Web User’s Privacy

This week a US court delivered a landmark ruling that raises questions about internet users’ rights to privacy. The ruling comes from the high-profile and very bitter legal dispute between YouTube and Viacom.

In case you are not familiar with the case here is the background.

US broadcasting company Viacom alleges that YouTube infringes its copyright law by allowing parts of its programmes (such as the Late Show with Jon Stewart) to be shown on the YouTube website.

To prove its case Viacom had asked the US courts to grant it access to YouTube’s data. In response YouTube’s owner Google argued that granting this request would compromise end-user’s privacy.

So which got its way? Both and neither it seems!

This week Judge Louis Stanton from the New York district court ruled that Viacom can have “full access” to the YouTube logs. However he rejected Viacom’s request to see the YouTube source code.

So limited access has been granted. Does this represent a well balanced decision? Google, not surprisingly, is not happy and to be fair I think it has a point. Although the US courts have denied access to certain data it is not clear what end user information will be exposed.

The logs to be divulged include information on when each video gets played. However, attached to each entry is each viewer’s unique login ID and the Internet Protocol address for that viewer’s computer.

Viacom says it will not see this information but as Google is still petitioning to mask the personal data, this aspect of the situation is clearly not yet fully resolved.

The key point is not whether Viacom wants to see this data or not. It is that it may be afforded access to it anyway by the US courts and that sets a troubling precedent.

Upholding user privacy is vital for the continued viability of the internet. If users think that their personal data may be accessed either directly or as a by-product of lawsuits and alike then confidence in the internet will take a hit and that would be a hugely detrimental development.

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