June 24, 2010

"VidMe" Announces Private Video Sharing -- But Fails Big Time

Greetings. I've said it often -- once data is on the Internet, never assume that it can ever really be completely controlled or removed.

The latest example of this axiom in action is a new video service announced with much fanfare yesterday called VidMe.

Promoted as a sort of "privacy-enhanced" version of YouTube, the VidMe spiel is that they provide a video hosting service where you can control exactly who has access to your videos at any given time, revoke video playback access whenever you want, prevent downloading and forwarding of videos without your permission, and so on.

VidMe is attempting to tap into concerns regarding videos (potentially embarrassing, or otherwise where public viewing is not desired) that fall into the wrong hands or go unexpectedly and undesirably viral.

YouTube already provides three types of privacy control tiers (other than the default of public access) -- private videos, group shared videos, and the new (and very useful) "unlisted" video feature. VidMe takes this a step farther with per-user granularity in access controls, and reportedly implements some additional mechanisms to try make it harder for persons to access or save copies of videos without the owners' permissions.

Since VidMe is basically selling a promise of privacy, one would hope that it could actually provide the advertised abilities for owners to prevent unauthorized viewing or distribution of videos. This is especially important since VidMe apparently plans to eventually charge users to upload videos to the service, beyond a few free videos per account.

But VidMe has some significant problems, not the least of which being that they cannot deliver the level of video privacy and control that they seem to be promising -- not due to any technical limitations in their service per se, but rather because that kind of privacy control is essentially unattainable in the current public Internet environment.

The VidMe flash player seemed very slow to buffer and play with all browsers that I tested. It hung, crashed, and burned whenever I tried to play test VidMe videos under Google Chrome.

OK, that stuff almost certainly can be fixed. But a much bigger problem for the VidMe "control your videos' distribution" business model is that every single technique I tried to locally capture displayed VidMe videos was fully successful without any difficulty whatsoever.

Every video stream grabber utility that I executed was able to capture and locally store both video and audio from VidMe playback streams. There are some video sites that at least make this sort of stream capture more difficult -- VidMe isn't one of them.

And just for chuckles (since the results seemed preordained) I also easily captured VidMe playbacks using the freeware, CamStudio Open Source package, which quickly and neatly enables high frame rate, high-quality screen and audio grabs directly from display buffers -- no need to capture the actual data streams themselves.

In every case, in every test, I ended up with fine looking video copies, complete with audio tracks, that I could -- if I had wished -- post anywhere or forward to anyone without restrictions.

My real gripe here is with how VidMe is promoting their service, and the extent to which unsuspecting users who might not understand the technical realities of Internet video could be painfully surprised if they took VidMe's pitch at face value.

Common sense alone should remind us that if nothing else, anyone could aim an inexpensive digital camcorder at a computer display and capture a low-quality copy for distribution. And if VidMe wishes to assert that most people don't have the stream or display capture software that I used for testing, or wouldn't bother to use them, that's OK -- but at least dial back the promotional language that could easily mislead many persons into believing VidMe provided a level of video privacy and control that is simply impossible in the existing Internet ecosystem.

VidMe's fine-grained site playback access controls do have value in and of themselves, though I frankly have my doubts that their ultimate pay-to-upload plan is viable from a business standpoint.

But make no mistake about it -- videos played via VidMe, just like from every other video site on the Net, can be captured and redistributed without permission -- one way or another.

Love it or hate it -- that's just the way it is.


Posted by Lauren at June 24, 2010 01:23 PM | Permalink
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