In the Viacom vs Google lawsuit, a judge has ordered that Google turn over a set of information which borders on personally identifiable information. Although Viacom and the lawyers are supposed to keep all this data private, there is obviously new opportunity for this information to be leaked, abused, or used for other purposes. It is unclear yet whether Viacom will get IP addresses in the log data. If they do, some users will be personally identifiable. Although Viacom isn’t supposed to use this data to identify end users, they will now know whether or not other lawsuits could bear fruit (a.k.a. make money) for them. If you think they won’t be coming after individuals, you’re wrong. It’s just a matter of the right lawyer with enough data to know what to subpoena. And even if the US Courts don’t allow Viacom access to this data, what happens when French Courts (or any other country) order that Google hand over the records?
It doesn’t matter if you trust Microsoft, Google, or Yahoo. The fact is that you cannot trust every government and every lawyer across the planet. At the same time you have to expect that any international company will obey the law in the countries in which they operate. This means the companies are going to hand over the data – it’s the law. Even if this means handing over personally identifiable information to China so that they can execute dissenters, you have to expect the companies to do this. Do you really expect *them* to break the law?
There is only one way to play this game, which is to NOT retain records of any kind. If records are not kept, they obviously cannot be subpoenaed.
Personally, I do trust Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. I just don’t trust every lawyer on the planet. And it only takes one lawyer to make my life a mess. For this reason, I urge Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and all other internet companies to not keep logs. I know it helps their businesses, but retaining these records makes it downright scary for me to use their services. Get rid of the data, get rid of the problem.
Of course, these views do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.
See also: Internet Trust – Present and Future