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If You Watched Certain YouTube Videos, Investigators Demanded Your Data From Google

Accepted submission by upstart at 2024-03-24 14:40:28
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If you watched certain YouTube videos, investigators demanded your data from Google [mashable.com]:

If you've ever jokingly wondered if your search or viewing history is going to "put you on some kind of list," your concern may be more than warranted.

In now unsealed court documents reviewed by Forbes [forbes.com], Google was ordered to hand over [engadget.com] the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and user activity of Youtube accounts and IP addresses that watched select YouTube videos, part of a larger criminal investigation by federal investigators.

The videos were sent by undercover police to a suspected cryptocurrency launderer under the username "elonmuskwhm." In conversations with the bitcoin trader, investigators sent links to public YouTube tutorials on mapping via drones and augmented reality software, Forbes details. The videos were watched more than 30,000 times, presumably by thousands of users unrelated to the case.

YouTube's parent company Google [mashable.com] was ordered by federal investigators to quietly hand over all such viewer data for the period of Jan. 1 to Jan. 8, 2023, but Forbes couldn't confirm if Google had complied.

SEE ALSO: Users get a taste of Google's AI search results, unprompted [mashable.com]

The mandated data retrieval is worrisome in itself, according to privacy experts. Federal investigators argued the request was legally justified as the data "would be relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, including by providing identification information about the perpetrators," citing justification used by other police forces around the country. In a case out of New Hampshire, police requested similar data during the investigation of bomb threats that were being streamed live to YouTube — the order specifically requested viewership information at select time stamps during the live streams.

"With all law enforcement demands, we have a rigorous process designed to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement," Google spokesperson Matt Bryant told Forbes. "We examine each demand for legal validity, consistent with developing case law, and we routinely push back against over broad or otherwise inappropriate demands for user data, including objecting to some demands entirely."

Privacy experts, however, are worried about the kind of precedent the court's order creates, citing concerns over the protections of the first and fourth amendments. "This is the latest chapter in a disturbing trend where we see government agencies increasingly transforming search warrants into digital dragnets," executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project [stopspying.org] Albert Fox-Cahn told the publication. "It’s unconstitutional, it’s terrifying, and it’s happening every day."


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