Bigger Bro watching: divulging Tube data | india | Hindustan Times
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Bigger Bro watching: divulging Tube data

One of the most pet nightmares of netizens has just come true. The niggling worry over what would happen if the 'cookies' lodged in our computers fell into the hands of a third party never really left us. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the weeks ahead, reports Amitava Sanyal.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2008 23:49 IST
Amitava Sanyal

One of the pet nightmares of netizens has just come true. It’s a matter over which many self-righteous fists have been wrung and much paranoid anger vented. It has to do with disclosure of the massive load of information gathered by prying and ubiquitous web services such as Google.

We have been ever suspicious of the small files called ‘cookies’ lodged in our computers that relay back our usage patterns to storage machines far away. There, these bytes of information are sliced and slapped together, ostensibly to serve you and I better — through personalised pages, targeted ads, relevant search suggestions, etc. But the niggling worry over what would happen if all this data fell into the hands of a third party never really left us. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the weeks ahead.

Last week, our friendly giant from the American West Coast was ordered to divulge all video usage data — including the voyeuristic habits of people like us — to another giant of a company from the East Coast. The disclosure order came from the US judge presiding over the $1-billion copyright case slapped on Google by film and media network company Viacom. Google will have to now turn over information regarding the uploaders and viewers of all the videos on YouTube, recorded since its inception in 2005.

This is worrisome even thousands of miles away from the East Coast or the West Coast. Manic copyright minders could, theoretically, use the data to breathe down the necks of ‘offending’ users the world over. (You should worry if you are big enough. Remember, YouTube got sued only after it was bought out by a rich company that could afford to pay up.)

But at stake is anonymity on the Net, which has emboldened lakhs of users to communicate freely and has given the medium its community culture. When such information is given out by one of the most-visited websites in the world, the domain of worry crosses national boundaries.

Lawyers from both the warring corporations have tried to allay the fears of the private and the paranoid. They have said that though the login names and computer (Internet protocol) addresses of all users would be divulged, the data could not possibly be used to zero in on a particular user.

But geeks know otherwise. After AOL’s disclosure of the search habits of lakhs (for research) in 2006, reporters from The New York Times were able to track down one user by analysing her search queries.

The long arm of American law is unlikely to reach as far as the seats of our pants in India. But it’s not the most comforting thought, is it? Especially given that you did not even read the scroll-downs of legalese screened at you when you signed up.

For keep’s sake

Here’s a service that’s bound to put a smile on the faces of all you hoarders. Ever wanted to save a video you have seen on the Tube? Here’s a simple way to go about it.

First, play the video on YouTube. Then, insert ‘kiss’ between ‘www.’ and ‘youtube.com’ on the address bar at top. It would take you to kissyoutube.com. Click the Download button when it appears. The clip will be saved on your machine as a Flash video file (with an ‘.flv’ extension). Open with your Windows or Real media player. If that fails, get the Adobe Media Player from get.adobe.com/amp.

Just one caveat: before inserting the all-important ‘kiss’ at the right place, make sure you are on the global site (www.youtube.com). It wouldn’t work on in.youtube.in, to which us desis are likely to get automatically routed.

Now do not crib that this column never helped broaden your horizon.