Man sits at government computer

US federal authorities have ordered Google to provide names, addresses, phone numbers, and viewing histories of users who watched specific YouTube videos, according to Forbes magazine. Additionally, the authorities requested the IP addresses of those who viewed the videos without being logged in.

The government’s request is linked to an investigation into a suspected crime committed by the publisher of the videos. However, there was no indication that viewers were suspected of any wrongdoing. The authorities only stated that the records were “relevant and material” to their investigation. This order could potentially affect tens of thousands of accounts.

A US court approved the order but instructed Google not to publicise it. In a separate instance, government agencies requested information on all accounts that watched eight livestreamed videos. It remains unclear whether Google complied with these requests.

Google told Forbes it has “rigorous” processes to protect user privacy. The revelation of the government’s data demands has sparked concerns about the potential for government overreach in accessing private information under broad claims of “relevance” without demonstrating reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. It is also unknown if other governments, including the UK, have made similar requests for Google user data.

In 2021, Google admitted to conducting “experiments” that hid certain websites from search results, raising concerns about the potential for political or commercial interference. Earlier this year, the company paid $5 billion to settle a lawsuit over its collection of user data through the Chrome browser even when users were in “incognito” mode.

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