Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Privacy hot potato

It seems that Google and Viacom have reached an agreement on the YouTube usage data Google was ordered to turn over; Google will be allowed to anonymize the data by replacing user IDs and IP addresses with random tokens.

This is good news (though not as good as, say "turns out the data was anonymous to begin with"), but not a surprise. Google and Viacom had both stated that they wanted to find a way to protect the anonymity of the data. Google's interest is obvious, but Viacom had an interest as well: If they get anonymized data, no one can accuse them of abusing personalized data or accidentally leaking it. AOL already saw what it's like to be the guy that leaks personalized data, even if only by accident. No one wants to be that guy.

Now, the whole reason this is a big deal is because personalized data is valuable, and that presents a temptation. But a rational player will realize that the high cost of getting caught, together with the difficulty of keeping a dozen terabytes of valuable data completely secret and the lack of anyone else but Google to blame a breach on, far outweighs any benefit there may be. Viacom is just being rational. If there's a breach now, the list of suspects is one, not two companies long.

Put another way, the personal content of the usage data has value in general, but it has less than no net value to Viacom. It's a hot potato they don't want to catch. Better to make sure it's not thrown in the first place.

[Re-reading my original post on this topic, I see I already made this point, but I still think it's a good point.]

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