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.

How to use the government’s surveillance cameras in UK to make your own music video — The Get Out Clause shows how

June 16, 2008

News: Several friends have sent me this video, and I’ve been meaning to blog it. It’s video compiled by the British government’s surveillance cameras of a band that purposely shot themselves in front of the videos to make a music video. It turns out in England a citizen has a right to obtain such surveillance video taken of them from the government. The band is called the Get Out Clause, and the song and video are very cool! The lead singer sounds a little like Chris Martin of Coldplay.

Daniela Cicarelli video — explaining herself on YouTube

January 10, 2007

The Brazilian model Daniela Cicarelli, whose sex video caused a Brazilian court to shut down YouTube in Brazil for one day, apparently explains her thoughts about what happened. I say apparently because the video is in Spanish [oops] Portuguese, and I need someone to help out with a translation. Please submit a comment if you can translate. Thanks.

UPDATE:  I’m still working on a full translation.  From press reports, Daniela Cicarelli tries to do a little bit of damage control after thousands of Brazilians were upset by the judge’s shutdown of YouTube.  Some Brazilians organized an e-mail protest against her and proposed boycotting her MTV show.  Cicarelli said she didn’t bring the lawsuit (her boyfriend, who was also in the sex video, did on his own behalf).  Unrepetant about the 1-day shutdown of YouTube in Brazil, Cicarelli explained, “I don’t have to say I’m sorry about anything because it’s not my fault. I don’t have anything to do with that request, nor with the decision.” (more here

Brazilian judges reverses himself, lifts ban of YouTube

January 9, 2007

News: A day after Brasil Telecom shut down YouTube from its subscribers in Brazil, in order to comply with a judge’s order in a case involving the sex video of Daniela Cicarelli, the judge has reversed himself and lifted his order to Brazilian telcoms.  San Paolo state Supreme Court Justice Zuliani said, “Preventing the dissemination of offensive, false or libelous information is not legal censorship. However, the blocking of a site could lead to speculation along those lines.”  But “the judge also warned that he could reinstate a YouTube ban in Brazil. He demanded that the service providers explain why they could not block the video alone and that YouTube explain why it could not use software to prevent the Cicarelli clip from popping back on the site.”  (More from Forbes)

Analysis: Bravo.  It’s laudable when judges are brave enough to admit their own mistakes.  The injunction was way overbroad, and caused one ISP in Brazil to completely ban YouTube from its subscribers — just for one sex video.

YouTube now unavailable in parts of Brazil because of Daniela Cicarelli sex video

January 8, 2007

News:  Reports out of Brazil that Brasil Telecom, which provides Internet access to many people in Brazil, has blocked access to YouTube on its service, in order to comply with a court order against YouTube for allowing access to a sex video of model Daniela Cicarelli.  According to one report, “While [the] judge’s press office insisted that YouTube and the telephone companies have only been ordered to filter out the video itself, the Brasil Telecom spokesman said his company received an order to block the site.”

This is the second time the case has come up in the Brazilian court system.   The first time around, YouTube had removed the sex video after a Brazilian court order, but another YouTube user later reposted another copy on YouTube.  YouTube said on Friday the offending video has been removed (again).  According to today’s report, “On Monday, YouTube was unavailable in areas served by Brasil Telecom SA from the capital of Brasilia to the Amazon, though it still worked in heavily populated Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where Internet use is heaviest.”  (More here)

Analysis:  This is quite astonishing.  Such an order couldn’t be made in the United States because it would be overbroad under the First Amendment.  Can you imagine that millions of people in Brazil are being denied access to YouTube and all of its many millions of legitimate videos, just because of one sex video.  Talk about shooting an ant with an elephant gun!  

Is the world of “YouTube surveillance” going too far?

November 27, 2006

News:  The NYT reports an incident involving a high school student in Ottawa who provoked her teacher to get mad, so that another student could tape it and post it on YouTube.  The school got wind of the video and asked YouTube to remove it.  YouTube complied.  According to NYT, the teacher “is a 33-year veteran who specialized in teaching students with learning disabilities. The teacher is now on voluntary sick leave, and officials at his union say that he is so embarrassed that he may never return to class.” 

Analysis:  At least from the description in the article, I think the students were wrong for what they did, especially if they wanted their teacher to get mad so they could catch it on tape.  The article suggests that the teacher was a good teacher and supported by students.  Our lives will be drastically different if everything outside of our homes can be taped on video and posted on YouTube.  Although it’s true that video can catch inappropriate behavior and comments by politicians, police officers, and washed-up actors, there’s also a negative element to making everything fair game to video.   

UPDATE:  Michael Geist, a law professor in Canada, has a thoughtful article on the issuse.  In it, he writes:  “While there are some obvious benefits that arise from the transparency and potential accountability that can come from video evidence of controversial events, the emergence of an always-on video society raises some difficult questions about the appropriate privacy-transparency balance, the ethics of posting private moments to a global audience, and the responsibility of websites that facilitate Internet video distribution.”

IvyGate blog versus Yale student Aleksey Vayner

October 13, 2006

News:  Amid the hoopla over the YouTube-Google deal this week, another story has caught the interest of some in the blogging community, Yale Daily News, and, now, even tabloids in the UK. 

Apparently, a Yale student named Aleksey Vayner (’07) sent out a 7-minute video of himself to prospective employers, basically, to sell himself.  The video shows Vayner weight lifting, playing tennis, and dancing — all of which he appears to do well — while he gives a voice-over monologue touting his views on how to succeed. 

Later, someone — Vayner alleges someone from IvyGate blog, which “covers news, gossip, sex, sports and more at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale” — posted a copy of the video on YouTube.  YouTube took it down after receiving a complaint from Vayner based on copyright infringement.  But IvyGate blog continues to show the video on its site here and on veoh.  Vayner sent a “cease and desist” letter by email to IvyGate blog, alleging that the blog had infringed his copyright and had also violated his right to privacy by disclosing certain private facts.

IvyGate blog then sought free legal advice from Student Press Law Center and based on that advice concluded that it had a valid fair use defense to show the video (more here).   Meanwhile, IvyGate blog has detailed at length here what it claims are complete misrepresentations and lies by Vayner on his resume.

Analysis:  Where to begin?  First, thanks to these Ivy League college students for providing this good fodder for Friday the 13th.  Let me just say I watched the video.  Although it’s self-indulgent, I did not think it was as bad as I had heard it was (the guy certainly could beat me at tennis, lift way more than I could, and probably outdance me, I hate to admit).  If I were an employer I would laugh at the video and pitch it in the waste basket, but I wouldn’t waste my time thinking about it.  Kids, today.

Then there’s Vayner’s allegation that IvyGate has infringed his copyright and IvyGate’s defense of fair use.  Based on the information reported on IvyGate’s blog and the press articles, I think there’s probably little doubt that Vayner has a copyright in his video.  At to IvyGate’s fair use defense, fair use is judged on a case-by-case, balancing a set of factors, so you can never be too confident how a court will decide.  I don’t know all the facts, but based on what I’ve heard, I wouldn’t necessarily call this one a strong fair use argument.  IvyGate’s theory probably is a journalistic/news reporting type of use.  But you don’t have to show the entire video to report news from it (Just think about the notorious Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape, which was copyrighted).  And, although IvyGate has allegedly exposed a lot of lies in Vayner’s resume, none of them appears to be contained in the video (although further revelations seem possible, given the number of alleged lies already uncovered).

Another issue I’d want to know is whether Vayner somehow consented to further public distributions while sending his video to prospective employers.  In his letter to IvyGate, he does assert that he reserved all rights.

So this is what life at an Ivy League college today is like?  In the end, it was probably good for YouTube to get out of the fray.

YouTube founder Steve Chen a “solid B” student

October 12, 2006

News:  Don’t you love it when you become famous and reporters start digging up your biography.  The Chicago Sun Times went back to YouTube co-founder Steve Chen’s former high school teachers to discover that he was a “solid B student.”

Analysis:  That’s what people mean when they told you as a kid that “this will go down on your permanent record.”  I wonder, though, isn’t this a violation of FERPA to disclose someone’s grade?  (Maybe the school did not receive any federal funds to be regulated by FERPA.)