Online Privacy: YouTube, Google and Canadian Users

In the current copyright battle between Viacom and Google, the users (including you, if you’ve ever watched a YouTube video) are caught in the cross-fire. 

Viacom and other broadcasters launched a lawsuit against Google last year, alleging $1-billion in damages. The lawsuit claims that thousands of clips of Viacom television programming are available on Google’s YouTube. In the latest salvo, Viacom won a federal court ruling in the US, in which Google was ordered to deliver up its database of records associated with every YouTube clip that users have viewed.  Whenever a YouTube clip is viewed, YouTube’s database apparently collects information about those who viewed it: including log-in names (for users with YouTube accounts), and IP addresses (for viewers without accounts).

Predictably, there was an outcry; even Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner weighed in with an open letter to Google citing the privacy risks for Canadian users. Ultimately, the parties were able to come to an agreement to anonymize certain data elements to make it more difficult to identify individual users.

Two points are worth raising:

  • In today’s borderless culture, the jurisdiction of US courts over Canadian personal information is not an academic question. It’s an unavoidable reality – Canadians leave their personal digital fingerprints all over the US whenever they use the internet;
  • Secondly, someone should be asking… why is YouTube collecting all this data in the first place? 

Calgary – 13:45 MST

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