Why does Google keep so much information?

Yesterday, I wrote about the “privacy paradox” and Google’s refusal to post a conspicuous link to its privacy policy on its homepage.   Today, the New York Times reports that the judge overseeing the Viacom/YouTube copyright lawsuit has ordered Google to turn over a database linking YouTube users to every video clip they have watched on the site:

The order raised concerns among users and privacy advocates that the online video viewing habits of hundreds tens of millions of people could be exposed.  But Google and Viacom said they were working to hoping to come up with a way to protect the anonymity of YouTube viewers., and

Viacom said that the information would be safeguarded by a protective order restricting access to the data to outside advisors, who will use it solely to press Viacom’s $1 billion copyright suit against Google.

It’s good that some steps are being taken to limit the use of the information.  But why is Google collecting and retaining so much information? Maybe there’s business value in keeping it, but there’s also business value in not angering hundreds tens of millions of users.  Google’s apparent taste for data retention risks a well-deserved loss of goodwill.  (Or considering people’s wayward attitudes towards privacy, perhaps not.)  I recognize that some information must be retained for a variety of reasons.  But the more unnecessary information you keep, the more likely somebody you didn’t envision — a wayward employee, a hacker, or even worse, an adverse litigant — will find a use for it you didn’t want.

The court’s order can be found here.

ADDENDUM: The Times has revised the text of the quoted portion of the article from when I viewed it earlier.  I’ve indicated appropriate changes above.

NOTE (JULY 13): See here for updates.

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