Right now there’s a court case in Italy that involves Google executives, who are being tried for violating Italian privacy laws. The case illustrates international conflicts of law issues and challenges for companies doing business (via the internet) in multiple nations with differing cultures and corresponding legal rules. In a less serious way Google has encountered this type of thing before with its Street View product on Maps in trying to comply with different privacy rules in the US, Canada and Europe. But this is the first time (to my knowledge) that jail time is at stake.
What happened? According to the BBC’s summary of the facts:
[A] video, posted on Google Video in 2006 shortly before the firm acquired YouTube, showed a teenager with Down’s Syndrome being bullied by four students in front of more than a dozen others.
Prosecutors argue that Google did not have adequate content filters or enough staff to monitor videos.
They also argue that Google broke Italian privacy law by not preventing the the content from being uploaded without the consent of all parties involved.
There would be no civil, let alone criminal, liability if the incident had happened in the US. Publishers are generally insulated from liability in circumstances involving third party content postings on their sites. Notwithstanding stricter Italian privacy law, my guess is that anti-American and anti-Google sentiment are a subtext in this case.
Named Google defendants include David Drummond, Google’s SVP of Corporate Development, and former Google CFO George Reyes. The BBC article says that the defendants could face up to three years in jail if they’re convicted. However if they were to in fact be convicted appeals would take place that would likely succeed. As unfortunate as the underlying facts may be there’s something inherently unreasonable at the heart of this case and probably the Italian courts will (eventually) recognize it.
This case illustrates how we truly live in a global society — certainly where the internet is concerned. And in most places, including the US, legal rules have not caught up to internet and technology developments.