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Group Accusing YouTube of Helping Hackers Has Ties to Film Lobby

The Digital Citizens Alliance has ties to the film industry and to an effort to lobby for investigations of Google by U.S. states.

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The group behind a study blaming Google’s YouTube for helping Peeping Tom hackers failed to mention its connections to the film industry lobby, one of Google’s biggest antagonists.

The 45-page study, released Thursday by a nonprofit outfit called the Digital Citizens Alliance, points out how easy it has become for hackers to seize control of people’s (mostly women’s) computers and take over their webcams to spy on them when they’re undressed — largely, it claims, because of YouTube.

Google’s YouTube, it charged, has become a repository for instructional videos showing people how to hack. The study goes on to cast YouTube and its advertisers as enabling these videos and benefiting financially from their popularity.

But what the group fails to make clear is its ties to Hollywood, specifically to the Motion Picture Association of American. As The Verge reported last year, the MPAA has been engaged in a campaign against Google. The DCA is one of the principal actors behind the MPAA’s lobbying effort, as the New York Times outlined in a story last year.

In a response to the report’s findings, a Google spokesman said via email: “YouTube has clear policies that outline what content is acceptable to post, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users.” Those policies prohibit video tutorials about hacking a webcam with malicious intent. When a video is flagged, it gets reviewed and is removed if found to violate those guidelines.

As to the ties between the report’s backers and the film industry, we turn to emails released in the infamous Sony hack. DCA Executive Director Tom Galvin had emailed an executive at Sony Pictures last year with an invoice seeking payment of more than $400,000, of which about $70,000 would be earmarked for what was called “the AG project.”

While it’s still unclear precisely what the “AG project” refers to, that email coincides with the film industry’s lobbying push to get state attorneys general to investigate Google. Tax documents on file with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service show the DCA took in about $2.4 million in revenue in 2013, but did not disclose its donors.

Asked about the emails and the DCA’s ties to the MPAA and the request for funding from Sony, Galvin said in an email to Re/code: “While to date we haven’t received support from MPAA, we do share common interests. … We never received that funding, but would welcome it in the future.”

Sony declined to comment. MPAA spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said, “We have common interests with Digital Citizens Alliance but we do not fund them.”

The “AG effort” seems to have gained some traction with one attorney general in particular: Jim Hood of Mississippi, who has launched an investigation. Hood, however, is now being sued by Google for conspiring with the motion picture industry in its investigation, underscoring the ties between the DCA and the film industry.

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