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    Google’s Vast Data Collection Practices Turned Against the Search Engine

    Various news sites are reporting that Google is facing a huge uproar after a federal judge ordered (pdf) the search engine to turn over to Viacom every record of every video watched by YouTube users worldwide, including users’ names and IP addresses. An IP address is a unique 32-bit numeric address that identifies a computer on a network. Viacom is suing Google for allowing clips of its shows to appear on the video-sharing site YouTube. The judge ruled: 

    The motion to compel production of all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website is granted[.]

    Google gathers a vast amount of data on its users, including YouTube users. The “Logging database contains, for each instance a video is watched, the unique ‘login ID’ of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer (‘IP address’), and the identifier for the video.”

    Google argued that turning over “all data from the Logging database” would invade its users’ privacy, but the judge rejected that argument. The judge cited to Google’s own statements about unique IP addresses:

    We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.

    Note that Google’s statement says that “in most cases” an IP address cannot uniquely identify a user. I disagree with this statement — the definition of an IP address is that it uniquely identifies one computer from all the rest that are online.

    Google is at fault for keeping such detailed, personally identifiable profiles of YouTube users and the judge is at fault for not recognizing that revealing the Logging database information to Viacom is a substantial violation of YouTube users’ privacy.

    Read more analysis about the ruling at EFF, the Irish Herald, and BBC News.

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