Web giants spark privacy concerns

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Web giants spark privacy concerns

Google and LinkedIn criticised for not protecting individuals' data.

While a US court ruled Google must hand over details of every person that has watched a video on YouTube, professional networking site LinkedIn has been criticised for exploiting its users and selling their personal information at a costly price to human resource professionals.

A New York judge has ordered Google to hand over all YouTube data, including user names, associated IP addresses and every video watched on the site, to entertainment company Viacom, in the latest move to settle a £500m law suit. Lawyers have since criticised the ruling for putting individual privacy at risk.

Nickelodeon owner Viacom argued in March last year that 160,000 clips of its TV shows were watched illegally more than 1.5 billion times on YouTube.

Viacom argued that although YouTube “touts itself as a service for sharing home videos” the reality is very different. “YouTube has filled its library with entire episodes and movies and significant segments of popular copyrighted programming from plaintiffs and other copyright owners,” Viacom had argued.

Google’s senior litigation councillor Catherine Lacavera voiced privacy fears after the judge adhered to Viacom’s demands for Google to disclose the data. She said she hoped Viacom will allow Google to “anonymise” the logs before producing them under the court’s order.

Law firm Cobbetts’ ICT and media partner, Susan Hall, echoed Google’s concerns. “The protective order which the parties have agreed and which Viacom are relying on as protecting the interests of end users is surprisingly ill-adapted to the estimated 12 terabytes of data which is expected to be revealed under order,” Hall argued.

Hall cast doubts that individuals’ privacy would be guarded by the judge order for Viacom not to re-use any of the information given marked “confidential”. She said she regarded the order as “oddly out of tune with the information society”.

UK rights group Privacy International’s Simon Davis said the Google court case will erode European trust in US sites. “We warned Google to delete all data that was no longer necessary, rather than keeping it for 18 months,” he said. “Now the data can be cherry-picked by anyone who holds an interest."

Meanwhile Privacy International is also accusing Google of breaking data protection laws with its planned launch of Street View in Europe. Street View is a product that matches locations on maps to photos which may include captured individuals.

“When CCTV was introduced into Britain, it was for public safety and law enforcement,” Davis explained. “The idea that a commercial organisation could turn public images into profit is something that was not envisioned by the law. "

Davis explained Privacy International had given Google a seven-day period to demonstrate that its “face-blurring technology” works. But Davis remains sceptical. “Six weeks ago Google had not been able to make it work so it is unlikely that it can miraculously be deployed,” he said.

Google is not the only web giant currently the subject of privacy concerns. Professional networking site LinkedIn, while announcing secured funding of $53m from Bain Capital Ventures, has also been accused of betraying its users.

Human resources analyst Bill Kutik compared the current LinkedIn site to the site first launched five years ago. At first, the definition of networking was users asking their contacts to connect them to other profiles through introductions.

The introduction could only take place if one of the users already carried a close connection with the member that appealed.

“Though it seemed like a gimmick at the time, the guarantee was that no one could find you, read about you or contact you except by linking to people personally linked to you,” argued Kutik in his blog.



However soon LinkedIn was selling advertising space for a cost depending on the professional position of the user. IT professionals were the most expensive to target.



Then LinkedIn launched InMail, whereby individuals can search for individuals they do not know at a cost. LinkedIn argues it is “30 times more likely to get a response than a cold call or email”.



Soon after, the firm launched the Enterprise Corporate Solution that allows account holders to search the entire site’s 23 million member profiles.

“Linked in is becoming a job board dressed in social-networking clothing,” noted Kutik. “When I’m promised privacy and then get monetised instead, I like to be asked first and then get a split of the take."
itweek.co.uk @ 2010 Incisive Media
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