Watching you watching YouTube

A US judge has ordered YouTube to disclose what videos every visitor to the site has ever watched.

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By  Rob Corder & Reuters Published  July 4, 2008

A $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit brought by entertainment giant Viacom against video sharing portal YouTube has the potential to blow massive amounts of private information into the open.

A US judge has ordered Google, the owner of YouTube, to hand over the user data of all the web site's visitors, which will allow Viacom to see what videos the entire YouTube population has watched.

The lawsuit is a massive showdown over video piracy, with Viacom, owner of movie studio Paramount and MTV Networks, fighting to protect its intellectual property rights throughout the world.

Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sided with Viacom this week and ordered Google to turn over as evidence a database with usernames of YouTube viewers, what videos they watched when, and users' computer addresses.

Representatives of both companies said they were looking to work out how to comply with the court order to share video data while ensuring personally identifiable information is secure.

Viacom says that it needs the data to demonstrate video piracy patterns that are the heart of its case against YouTube. But it sought to diffuse privacy fears, saying it had no interest in identifying individual users.

"Viacom has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user," Viacom said.

"Any information that we or our outside advisors obtain ... will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against YouTube and Google (and) will be handled subject to a court protective order and in a highly confidential manner."

Google senior litigation counsel Catherine Lacavera said her company was looking to resolve the issue quickly in a way that balanced Viacom and other plaintiffs' need for evidence in the case while "carving out some space for user privacy.

"Lacavera said her company was pleased the court's decision had put limits on evidence discovery, including refusing to allow Viacom access to YouTube's search technology or to users' private videos on the site.

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