Google, YouTube, and the Good and Bad

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’m not one of those piling on the sack cloth and ashes over today’s ruling directing Google to turn YouTube user records over to Viacom. Was the ruling overreaching? Oh, probably without a doubt, but it also justifies the worries we’ve had about Google’s storage of our user information. In fact, it was Google’s own “assurances” of privacy issued on the company’s own weblog that went into the judge’s decision to release this information.

We’ve been saying just such an event like Viacom suing for the information would happen eventually, except that the entity getting this information could have been much worse. Viacom will learn that I like octopus and squid movies, some music videos, funny cats and other amazing critters, very clever commercials, videos about corporate greed, the environment, and civil rights, and, unfortunately, a video featuring an older woman dying in the waiting room of a hospital while the personnel watched and didn’t care. Have I watched any copyrighted material? It’s all copyrighted, folks, but have I watched any material that infringes on copyright? Doubtful, but even if I had, I am not going to be suddenly sued by Viacom for copyright infringement, as some of the more hysterical are implying.

However, we don’t know how much information Google does have about us. For instance, there is information from searches and other activities that I would prefer to be private. And with Google and Yahoo sharing resources, I can’t guarantee that there is such a thing as a “private search”, even if I used multiple search engines. Google’s complete disregard for our concerns puts us at risk for just such events as this occurring, except now, rather than talking about a hypothetical situation, we have fact staring us in the face: Google’s data privacy provisions are anything but private.

Though I am not necessarily disappointed this event happened, I am disappointed that this lawsuit is allowed to continue. The whole point on DMCA is to prevent just such events like this from happening by providing a safe harbor for ISPs. If the judges are going to ignore the DMCA when the corporations file law suits, than perhaps we should begin to ignore the DMCA notices we receive as individuals. Obviously as a law of the land, DMCA is cherry picked to death.

In the end I find it doubtful that Viacom will find its material is the most popular on YouTube, and its draconian devices will only serve to bring into question how inconsistently the DMCA is being applied. I also doubt that Viacom really is that interested in the data—this is more likely a move to get Google to settle rather than continue the court case.

In the meantime, now is the time to set our sights on Google, not Viacom. Google’s assurance of our data being kept safe has proven to be false. The question is, what will the company do about it? If the company chooses not to act, what will we do about it?


I read the ruling and Google’s attempt to protect the users was lukewarm, at best, as compared to the company’s protecting its own source code. Google provided no viable defense, cited no laws, and even provided an argument that was easily refuted in the company’s own weblog. In addition, it didn’t even attempt to put conditions on what happens to that data, including ensuring that the data is not published in any way. All we can see from this ruling, is a company indifferent to the concerns of its users. Amazing.

I disagree, though, with those who say that the source code Google was protecting was unimportant. This is not the Flash source used for the videos; this was Google’s own technology the company has implemented in order to look for copyright infringing material when first posted. This, in addition, to portions of its own search code. This is not “trivial” code, and that Google sought to protect it should not be dismissed out of hand.

What peeves me is that Google fought harder to protect it, than us.

second update

Interesting take from danbri on Google’s work with social graphs and now much more far reaching something such as a YouTube username and/or IP address can be. Dan provides a listing of information about him that can be derived just from his supposedly pseudo anonymous YouTube login.


Squid Friday, early

A friend sent me a link to a Slate article, How Smart is the Octopus?, discussing how to measure the intelligence of a creature from a completely different world.

So much of our intelligence measuring is based on tools, but tools are, themselves, nothing more than devices helping a species survive in a hostile environment. How does intelligence evolve in a world that’s ideal? And how can we measure it?

The Slate article mentions one observation reflecting a set of complex behavioral patterns that are combined in order to meet a specific danger. Could this reflect primary intelligence?

Octopuses escape from predators not just by hiding quickly but by deceit. One of the most impressive examples of this deception is what marine biologist Roger Hanlon calls the moving-rock trick. An octopus morphs into the shape of a rock and then inches across an open space. Even though it’s in plain view, predators don’t attack it. They can’t detect its motion because the octopus matches its speed to the motion of the light in the surrounding water.

For Hanlon, what makes this kind of behavior remarkable is that it’s a creative combination of lots of behaviors, used to address a new situation.

The Slate article points to a scientific study, Cephalopod consciousness: Behavioral Evidence at Science Direct, which explores cephalopod learning and intelligence testing, and is available for a rather steep purchase price. However, for some odd reason, I received access to the online article. Perhaps, since this article is in a journal on learning and cognition, I exhibited the appropriate sequence of actions and was rewarded with access to the journal. In other words: Shelley, good monkey.

The research paper is a very dense read, and does reference learning studies methodology, but is fascinating reading. In particular, one paragraph summarizes the difficulty inherent with trying to test for intelligence with a species so completely different from us.

In accordance with West-Eberhard’s (2003) learning–forgetting–learning sequence, octopuses seemed to forget which one of a pair of stimuli was rewarded and began to choose the alternative after a week of testing. Papini and Bitterman (1991), among others, found that octopuses asymptoted at seven of ten positive choices before shifting attention to the alternative. All animal species have ecological limitation on learning, adapted to the situation in which they need to use it (West-Eberhard, 2003), though it is surprising to see this limitation given the variety of visual and tactile stimuli that octopuses can process (Wells, 1978). One reason that octopuses may have this temporal limitation on learning and so switch choices comes from field observation on their occupancy of space. Octopuses returned to one sheltering home after foraging trips for approximately a week and then moved on to a new area (Mather & O’Dor, 1991), possibly as the prey in their limited home ranges was depleted. If they were using a win-switch foraging strategy (see Stephens & Krebs, 1986), then their memory duration would be programmed to adapt to this use of their environment, a deliberate selection and not a limitation.

Not just octopuses are examined—the researchers also examined squid, exploring whether skin coloration may actually form a primitive means of communication, and even hypothesizing that the squid practice deception with rivals during mating. The question then becomes, is deception a product of higher intelligence?

Wonderful stuff.