BEWARE! Google is collecting unprecedented amounts of private information that could fall unexpectedly into the hands of third parties.
This concern was raised by privacy advocates after a United States federal judge last week ordered Google to turn over to Viacom its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube, the Web's largest video site by far.
Virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.
Google and Viacom said they were hoping to come up with a way to protect the anonymity of the site's visitors.
Still, the judge's order renewed fears about the private data that Google is collecting.
Said Mr Chris Hoofnagle, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology: "These very large databases of transactional information become honey pots for law enforcement or for litigants."
Google has steadfastly said it needs to retain information about users' IP addresses to improve the quality of its code and also to guard against click fraud.
The company maintains that it keeps the information secure and would never willingly divulge it.
But Mr Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, noted that the decision might be taken out of Google's hands.
And, he said, that's exactly what happened in the Viacom litigation.
"Google keeps too much data about its users," Mr Rotenberg said. "There will be circumstances such as discovery orders and search warrants where Google will have to turn that data over."
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