The stories on a judge’s order for Google to turn-over to Viacom data on YouTube users have largely ignored a key issue: why is Google–and almost every other leading broadband video provider tracking and analyzing our online viewing habits. It’s because–like with broadband generally and with television–the goal is to know exactly what we are viewing in order to better target us with advertising. In the case of broadband video, whether it is YouTube, Hulu, or Joost, for example, it’s about tracking our viewing so well we can be micro-targeted.
Google sees huge profits for YouTube doing this. They now call YouTube a “next-generation advertising platform,” something we think reflects how they really view the service. Google is pitching the branding and sellling of YouTube to advertisers. Google is now tracking YouTube views as it promotes to advertisers a scheme to take advantage of the “viral” marketing capabilities of YouTube. Finally, it’s also useful to consider how Google’s recently acquired DoubleClick also has a product tracking and analyzing broadband video. Users and policymakers should expect their online viewing will be private–and not to be spied upon. Whether by Viacom, the government, or Google itself.