Is too much of our life wired? Below Reihan Salam and Rev Grossman discuss on bloggingheads.tv the addictive quality of social networking:
IMHO, information overload is addictive, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to knowledge or wisdom. I don’t know about others, but the biggest thing that clears my mind is getting away from the computer, the Blackberry, and the television, and sitting quietly to read or think. As most people know, today that’s not always easy to do.
Although the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a great research tool, its utility is hampered but a lack of basic search mechanisms. One can search by URL and archived links, but basic Google-style boolean searching isn’t available. The Archive once offered a beta boolean search tool, but it never worked and it was later withdrawn.
However, a new application may significantly expand our ability to data-mine archived webdata. Reports give a sneak peek at Zoetrope, an application being developed by researchers at Adobe and the University of Washington. As put by the researchers:
The Web is ephemeral. Pages change frequently, and it is nearly impossible to find data or follow a link after the underlying page evolves. We present Zoetrope, a system that enables interaction with the historical Web (pages, links, and embedded data) that would otherwise be lost to time. Using a number of novel interactions, the temporal Web can be manipulated, queried, and analyzed from the context of familar [sic] pages. Zoetrope is based on a set of operators for manipulating content streams. We describe these primitives and the associated indexing strategies for handling temporal Web data. They form the basis of Zoetrope and enable our construction of new temporal interactions and visualizations.
The demo video shows how historical webdata could be manipulated and compared, as the authors note, in a variety of “novel” ways. Even more significantly, researcher Eytan Adar “hopes to eventually incorporate information from the Internet Archive’s nearly 14 years of records.” Such a combination would massively increase the utility of web archives, but would also — as discussed in a paper I’m writing — exacerbate concerns over informational autonomy.
The NY Times reports that Google and Viacom have reached a partial agreement regarding production of YouTube user data:
Google said it had now agreed to provide lawyers for Viacom and a class-action group led by the Football Association of England, a large viewership database that blanks out YouTube username and Internet address data that could be used to identify individual video watchers.
The parties are still working towards a separate agreement concerning YouTube employee data, an issue I wrote about yesterday.
CNet reports on what may be the stumbling block in Google and Viacom’s failure to reach an agreement regarding YouTube user data (which I’ve blogged on here and here):
Viacom wants to know which videos YouTube employees have watched and uploaded to the site, and Google is refusing to provide that information, CNET News has learned.
This dispute is the reason the two companies, and lawyers representing a group of other copyright holders suing Google, have failed to reach a final agreement on anonymizing personal information belonging to YouTube users, according to two sources close to the situation.
From a discovery standpoint, I’m not sure what Google’s rationale might be for refusing to hand over employee data. If anything, as the CNet article points out, employee data might be highly relevant to Viacom’s claims and detrimental to Google’s DMCA safe harbor defense. What did the employees do? Did they upload infringing videos? Did they have actual knowledge of infringement?
In any case, this underscores why it’s a bad idea to leave privacy protections to those who profit from gathering our data. It also makes Google seem to be more protective of its employees than of the public. As TechCrunch put it today:
Google’s self imposed code of conduct is “Don’t be evil.” It doesn’t say “don’t be evil unless there’s important litigation at stake.” Google’s reputation is on the line, and how they respond will show their true character. They’ve shown they’ll go to bat for employees, now it’s time for them to show they’ll go to bat for their users.
Might the court order that Google hand over YouTube viewer records become, as Ed Felten and others termed a few years back, an “ExxonValdez” of privacy that makes informational privacy a national priority? Unfortunately, I suspect not. If the parties reach an agreement to anonymize the data and keep it out of the direct hands of Viacom, then public anger may subside.
What would be enough to mobilize the public? In 2006, Ed Felten suggested that a privacy Exxon Valdez “will have to be a leak of information so sensitive as to be life-shattering.” But how sensitive is our viewing of, for example, Harry Potter Puppet Pals? It’s creepy to think of lawyers having access to it, but is it life-shattering? Nonetheless, it appears that the public, companies, and Congress are becoming more attuned to privacy matters. Just last week, Google and Yahoo both recently endorsed the idea of privacy legislation before the Senate Commerce Committee.
In the meantime, what the the litigants doing? The NYTimes BITS blog notes, “A week after Google and Viacom both said they hoped to agree to make YouTube viewing data anonymous before Google hands the information to Viacom, no agreement has been signed.” (Emphasis added.) The parties blame each another. A Google lawyer says: “If Viacom refuses to allow us to anonymize viewing history, we will seek review by the court.” A Viacom spokesperson counters:
Viacom suggested the initiative to anonymize the data, and we have been prepared to accept anonymous information since day one. We hope that Google will turn its focus back to anonymizing the data they are required to deliver, and spend less time making statements about why they won’t get it done.
It’s not especially clear what the parties are doing or how things might be resolved. As I blogged recently, an earlier Times article initially stated that the parties were “working to protect the anonymity of YouTube viewers.” (Emphasis added.) A few hours later, the Times article was edited to say that the parties were “hoping to come up with a way to protect the anonymity of YouTube viewers.” (Emphasis added.) Apparently the parties’ resolve was tempered from “work” to mere “hope.” The parties need to do better, especially Google, which collected and retained all the information.