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Saturday, 05 July 2008 16:29

No appeal from Google on YouTube data ruling

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An appeal by Google against the decision of a federal judge in New York that it must hand over details of every video ever viewed on YouTube to Viacom was not only widely expected, but thought to be pretty much a given. A comment by Google's senior litigation counsel seems to suggest otherwise...

File under 'almost as big a shock as the original ruling as Google lets slip a comment which would seem to rule out an appeal over the YouTube video privacy debacle. The Boston Globe yesterday published a brief statement from Catherine Lacavera, the senior litigation counsel at Google. It was not what the world was expecting.

"We are disappointed the court granted Viacom's overreaching demand for viewing history" she said, which on its own could win the understatement of the year award. But this is where things get really interesting, because Lacavera also added "We will ask Viacom to respect users' privacy and allow us to anonymize the logs before producing them under the court's order."

Now, yes, it is a good thing that Google want to anonymise the logs in order respect user privacy. However, the tone of that statement does suggest that handing over the entire logs is something of a given. Remember that this is a lawyer speaking, who will have chosen her words very carefully.

Note that Lacavera did not say "if we produce them under the court's order" or "if the court's order is upheld" both of which would suggest that expected appeal is coming. What she said was "before producing them" as if this was a done deal.

But wait, there's more. This time in the form of an ironic twist to the privacy argument. Read on to find out what it is...

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Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, the New York Times reports that Google has added the word 'privacy' to it's home page. This follows an appeal to Google CEO Eric Schmidt in the form of a letter signed by the likes of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, World Privacy Forum, Consumer Action, Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU of Northern California and Consumer Federation of California.

"We are writing to you on behalf of California consumers and Internet users around the world to urge Google to include a direct link to its privacy policy on its homepage" the letter said, concluding "Google's reluctance to post a link to its privacy policy on its homepage is alarming. We urge you to comply with the California Online Privacy Protection Act and the widespread practice for commercial web sites as soon as possible."

The Google response was, before the Viacom ruling, that it does not need to make the privacy link any easier to find than clicking the 'About' link and then following the 'Privacy Policy' one. Indeed, a Google spokeswoman said just that and insisted there were no plans to change the privacy link positioning.

A Google spokesman told the New York Times that the change had been made because "Some users, bloggers, and regulatory bodies have asked us why we didn’t have a link." Maybe, in light of the Viacom ruling, it could have just said "you have no privacy, get over it."

What it does say, when you click through to the policy pages, amongst other things is that "Google's servers automatically record information when you visit our website or use some of our products, including the URL, IP address, browser type and language, and the date and time of your request" and "We may also share information with third parties in limited circumstances, including when complying with legal process, preventing fraud or imminent harm, and ensuring the security of our network and services."

Which is much the same thing...

Is Google painting itself into a corner, and what does Privacy International have to say about it all? Find out on the final page...

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Certainly Privacy International appears to think so if reports that it is to make a formal complaint about Google handing over the YouTube logs to data-protection officials from all 27 European Union nations on Monday are correct.

The EU 'Article 29' Data Protection Working Party has already concluded that companies such as Google must reduce the time that they hang on to user data in order to comply fully with EU privacy law. As the YouTube logs will contain information on European users, a ruling against them seems almost certain. Which could mean potential fines, although unlikely to be of the magnitude of those levied against Microsoft in recent rulings.

All of which makes the apparent decision by Google not to appeal the Viacom ruling, not to be seen to fight for the privacy of the people who use its services, very odd indeed.

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