Google bosses convicted in Italy

An Italian court has convicted three Google executives in a trial over
a video showing a teenager with Down’s Syndrome being bullied.

The Google employees were accused of breaking Italian law by allowing the video to be posted online.

Judge Oscar Magi absolved the three of defamation but convicted them of privacy violations.

The UK’s former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said the case gave privacy laws a "bad name".

The three employees, Peter Fleischer, David Drummond and George De Los
Reyes, received suspended six-month sentences, while a fourth
defendant, product manager Arvind Desikan, was acquitted.

David Drummond, chief legal officer at Google and one of those convicted, said he was "outraged" by the decision.

‘Ridiculous case’


Jane Wakefield, BBC News technology reporter

The guilty verdict has left Google outraged and much of the net community concerned about the ramifications

If firms can be held liable for every piece of content on their site
they would face a nigh-on impossible job of policing and vetting
everything before publication.

Many question how the Italian prosecutors decided which
employees to target and most agree the four it settled on were random
choice with none living in Italy or having direct responsibility for
the video in question. George De Los Reyes was Google’s chief financial
officer but no longer even works for the firm.

Google says it has no plans to pull out of Italy and that it will vigorously appeal the case.

At the moment there is no indication that a similar case could or would be brought in any other European country.

Italy does seem determined to pursue such cases though and similar ones
are ongoing against other net giants, such as eBay, Yahoo and Facebook.
Its motives in pursuing such cases are less clear.

"I intend to vigorously appeal this dangerous ruling. It sets a chilling precedent," he said.

"If individuals like myself and my Google colleagues who had nothing to
do with the harassing incident, its filming or its uploading onto
Google Video can be held criminally liable solely by virtue of our
position at Google, every employee of any internet hosting service
faces similar liability," he added.

Peter Fleischer, privacy counsel at Google, questioned
how many internet platforms would be able to continue if the decision

"I realise I am just a pawn in a large battle of
forces, but I remain confident that today’s ruling will be over-turned
on appeal," he said.

Richard Thomas, the UK’s former information
commissioner and consultant to privacy law firm Hunton & Williams,
said the case was "ridiculous".

"It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post," he told BBC News.

"I can’t imagine anything similar happening in this country. The case
wasn’t brought by the Italian equivalent of the information
commissioner but by criminal prosecutors and we don’t know their

"I find it worrying that the chief privacy officer who
had nothing to do with the video has been found guilty. It is
unrealistic to expect firms to monitor everything that goes online."

Seeking consent

The verdict is likely to have ramifications for content providers around the globe.

Google said at the trial that pre-screening all YouTube content was impossible.

The video at the centre of the case was posted on Google Video in 2006 shortly before the firm acquired YouTube.

Prosecutors argued that Google broke Italian privacy law by not seeking
the consent of all the parties involved before allowing it to go

Google’s lawyers said that the video was removed as
soon as it was brought to its attention and that the firm also provided
information on who posted it.

As a result four students were expelled from their school in Turin, northern Italy.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/02/24 12:38:49 GMT



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