YouTube’s privacy mess — will users revolt?

July 5, 2008

News: YouTube is in serious damage-control mode, after being ordered by Judge Stanton to turn over, among other things, (i) apparently all videos ever removed from YouTube after being flagged, the videos number in the millions; and (ii) for every video ever uploaded on YT, a log of the viewing history of YouTube users, including the IP addresses of users plus their usernames, and the time they watched the video. It’s quite possible this order violates the privacy statute VPPA (as discussed in another post below), but, at this point, not sure YouTube is asking the court to reconsider its order or seek an immediate appeal to protect the privacy interests of its users.

On its blog, YouTube said its trying to convince Viacom to allow YT to redact the usernames and IP addresses to preserve user confidentiality. We’ll see what happens.

As you might expect, many YouTube users are angry about release of their viewing history. Here’s a typical angry comment posted on YT:

“I have an idea, STOP LOGGING IPs. It bothers me that you guys are keeping track of viewing histories by IP for such a long time. Sure, a simple IP doesn’t give out personal information but these bastards are known to contact service providers to attempt and retrieve the personal details attached to an IP, or at least to send scare tactic emails to their customers. You have a staff of friggin geniuses at your disposal, why not get them to come up with a way to REALLY PROTECT our privacy. It was fun watching videos here, but I think I’ll avoid YouTube videos from now on, log out of my account for good and if absolutely necessary, view videos through a proxy. Thanks for trying, but we know and you know you can try a lot harder.”

Analysis: One thing that surprises me is that apparently YouTube keeps the files of all videos ever removed from YouTube — 12 terabytes of files + millions of videos. Offensive videos, pornographic videos, hate videos, apparently all saved by YouTube. Maybe it just takes more work to completely remove them from YT’s servers, or maybe YT needs the deleted files to try to stop copycat repostings of the deleted files?? I don’t know.

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