PaidContent says it’s a false alarm that Viacom will get personally identifiable information on our video viewing from YouTube and Google as part of its self-destructive lawsuit. Nonetheless, the episode has sparked the question I pose in the headline: When Google becomes our library, who acts as the librarian to protect our privacy as a matter of principle?
And what is the principle? Any site with content — Google, Amazon, a newspaper, a blog, an ISP — is now the moral equivalent of a library or bookstore, two institutions that try hard not to hand over information on what content we seek and consume arguing that that would violate our First Amendment rights. The controversy in the telco immunity legislation is that those searches were made without warrants. In this case, there is a warrant. When I ran sites, we got subpoenas all the time and handed over IP addresses when ordered; that was company policy. I always found it troubling and as a result ordered that we would change our data retention policy and get rid of IP addresses as soon as possible. Should Google and other sites erase IPs and rely only on cookies without personally identifiable information?
I say all this more as a question than as a statement. Viacom could have just as easily gotten our addresses and account names. Even as blind as Viacom is to the new reality — the suit itself is the proof of that — they realized, as PaidContent points out, that getting our personal viewing information would have turned them into a corporate peeping-tom pariah. So what is the principle and the law in your view? What should they be? And what are the practical tactics we should expect content sites to take? Should I be erasing my logs? Is that pointless because Google Analytics has them too? What gives?
: LATER: Bob Wyman adds in the comments:
PaidContent was spun… They are wrong. Viacom claims that they will receive no “personally identifiable information” because they managed to get the judge to accept that “login id is a pseudonym … which … ‘cannot identify specific individuals’” (See pages 13-14 of the ruling). The judge granted Viacom’s demand to receive “all data from the Logging database” — including login id.
I don’t know about you, but I sure think my Google “login id” does a pretty good job of identifying me…
:UPDATE: the Journal has a good July 4 story outlining how Google is trying to get Viacom to agree to scrubbing personally identifiable information out of the data because of the uproar over it.
We need a principle as we have one governing the ethics and if possible the behavior of bookstores and libraries. Google is the library.
Doing some research for a Reliable Sources segment I’m supposed to do this Sunday about George Carlin and his dirty words, I went to Google Trends and found this fascinating tidbit:
* Google searches for “fuck” and “God” are consistently equivalent.
When news of George Carlin’s death came out, however, searches for “Carlin” beat both by a factor of three.
* Search Google for his dirty words and you’ll find 31 million references for “bullshit,” 237 for “fuck,” and 671 million for “God.”
I’ll remind you that “bullshit” is political speech. And the internet is the First Amendment. George Carlin will die but his seven dirty words never will.
At PDF, I ask Vint Cerf — who said the FCC should die — to zero-base what government should or must do: regulation, incentive, investment. He launches onto a nice riff on roads and whether we should consider the internet to be a road — on which we chose what vehicles to drive — and so it becomes a government utility. Andrew Rasiej (playing Oprah in the audience) says that in the 1800s, people were dying from bad water in New York and so the city government spent billions buying a government-run aquaduct system and New York became the industrial and financial capital of the world. In the analogy, water trucks bear the logos of Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon and they stop the pipes from being laid. Andrew wonders what would happen if internet access were declared a civil right.
At PDF, Andrew Rasiej asks Vin Cerf for the one thing we need to do to advance the internet. His answer: Kill the FCC. I applauded.
Wonderful story in today’s Times on using Google data to show what we’re really interested in: more orgies than apple pie. The peg is an obscenity trial in Florida in which the defense attorney demonstrates through Google Trends data that there are more searches for group sex than for recipes. And so, if you truly want to see the community standards that define obscenity we’ll know when we see it, then don’t listen to our preaching but to our searching.
Marketers have always known this. Back when I was at People, we’d test covers of Diane Sawyer in a suit vs. Brooke Shields in a bathing suit and in person, people would say they’d buy the former but on their own, in the newsstand, they, of course, bought the latter. Behavior trumps opinion.
And now we have so many more ways to know what the market is really doing, what the people are really thinking: Google, Flickr, Amazon…. That is the key value of the internet and companies on it: collected knowledge.
And so yesterday, as the nation mourned George Carlin, it’s a wonderful thing to look at the uses of his seven dirty words on Twitter and in blogs, our views of him saying them on YouTube, and — as I’m sure we’ll see in a few days — our searches on Google and purchases on Amazon. There, FCC, is the best evidence of our community standards. Actions speak more truthfully than words.