Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Three Google executives convicted in Italian court; held liable for video uploaded to its YouTube site

A court in Milan, Italy convicted three Google executives today for violating Italian privacy laws. The judge, Oscar Magi, ruled that a video that showed an autistic boy being beaten and bullied by four students violated the rights of the victim and that Google should have reviewed the video prior to posting.

The video was posted on September 8, 2006 and remained online until pulled down by Google on November 7, 2008. Approximately 20 hours of video in uploaded to YouTube every minute according to a YouTube blog post from last year.

Google reacted immediately to the ruling, calling it a "serious threat to the web in Italy".

"(W)e are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming," Google VP and Deputy General Counsel Matt Sucherman wrote on the Googleblog.

☜  David Drummond, Google senior vice president, said "I intend to vigorously appeal this dangerous ruling. It sets a chilling precedent." (Photo: Google)

"European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.," Sucherman wrote.

Four Google executives were tried in absentia. Held liable were David Drummond, senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer, Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel, and George Reyes, a former chief financial officer.

Google video marketing executive, Arvind Desikan, was charged with defamation but cleared.

The three Google employees do not face jail time, despite the fact that the judge sentenced each to six-month sentences, as prison sentences of less than three years are automatically suspended in Italy.

Prosecutors stated that the case was about individual rights. "This was not a trial about freedom of the internet as some have said. Instead, and for the first time in Italy, a serious issue has been raised about the rights of the individual in today's society."

Drummond responded in a statement today "I am outraged by the decision of the court of Milan today finding that I am criminally responsible for violating the privacy rights of an autistic school boy who was harassed and bullied by several of his classmates.”

Network World reporter Paul McNamara called the ruling "shear madness", stating that "it sends the signal that Italian law and Italian law enforcement have gone mad.

TechCrunch writer Mike Butcher was equally upset: "Sometimes I despair of Europe, even though I'm proud of what can be achieved here. But really, guys, can we get it together?"

If this ruling was not bad enough, Google revealed today that it is subject to a European anti-trust inquiry centered on the tactics Google uses against three European Internet companies. Google is accused of manipulating search results to lower the rank of the listings of its competitors.