Authorities reportedly ordered Google to reveal the identities of some YouTube videos’ viewers

Federal authorities in the US have asked Google for the names, addresses, phone numbers and user activity of certain tracked accounts. YouTube The videos were viewed between January 1 and 8, 2023, according to unsealed court documents Forbes. People watching those videos without being logged in weren’t safe either, because the government also asked for their IP addresses. Investigators have reportedly ordered Google to hand over the data as part of an investigation into a man who goes by the name “elonmuskwhm” online.

Authorities suspect elonmuskwhm of selling bitcoin for cash, thus violating money laundering laws, as well as operating an unlicensed money transfer business. Secret agents reportedly sent the suspects to YouTube tutorial videos for mapping using drones and augmented reality software during their interviews in early January. However, these videos were not private and were viewed more than 30,000 times in total, which means that the government is potentially asking Google for personal information about quite a large number of users. “There is reason to believe that these records will be relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, including providing identifying information about criminals,” authorities told the company.

According to the documents Forbes saw, the court upheld the decision but asked Google to keep it private. It is also unclear whether Google has turned over the information requested by authorities. In another case, authorities asked the company for a list of accounts that “viewed and/or interacted” with eight YouTube live streams. Police requested the information after learning they were being watched via the stream while searching the area following reports of an explosive being placed in a trash can. One of those live streams was posted by the Boston and Maine Live account, which has more than 130,000 subscribers.

This was stated by the Google spokesperson Forbes that the company follows a “rigorous process” to protect the privacy of its users. But critics and privacy advocates still worry that government agencies are overreaching and using their power to obtain sensitive information about people who watch specific YouTube videos and who are not doing anything illegal.

“What we watch online can reveal deeply sensitive information about us — our politics, our passions, our religious beliefs and more,” said John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Forbes. “It is fair to expect that law enforcement agencies would not have access to that information without probable cause. This order overturns that assumption.”

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