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Well, Duh: Viacom Backs Off On YouTube Records

Not even two weeks after a federal court ruling that would have handed over gigabytes of data about the viewing habits of YouTube users to Viacom, that entertainment conglomerate decided to allow YouTube to strip out personal data from these records.

Google subsidiary YouTube posted a note about this deal on its blog yesterday. The PDF copy of the agreement specifies that YouTube will replace data that could have pointed to a specific person with anonymized identifiers -- instead of "robpegoraro" viewing a clip, Viacom will only know that "randomuser1421" saw that clip:

When producing data from the Logging Database pursuant to the Order, Defendants shall substitute values while preserving uniqueness for entries in the following fields: User ID, IP Address and Visitor ID.

That doesn't mean that a YouTuber's identity might not still surface through a pattern of video viewing, though it would take a lot more work to identify somebody that way. But that's immaterial. Viacom shouldn't require those details in the first place to prove any claim that YouTube built its business on the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted works by Viacom and its ilk.

What I want to know is, why didn't Viacom seek such a common-sense solution in the first place? Whatever made its executives think this wouldn't earn them a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion? You'd think that a company that deals so heavily in image and perception could be a little smarter about this sort of thing.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 15, 2008; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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