Three Google executives have been found guilty of criminal charges over a bullying video that appeared on the Google Video service. Google has responded with a blog post pledging to appeal the convictions and suggesting that they undermine “the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built.”
The video involved a youth with Down’s syndrome in Italy being taunted by four teenagers. The video was posted to Google Video in September 2006. Google has argued that it removed the video within hours and worked with authorities to find the teenagers, something it repeated in its blog post today:
The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police. We also worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was subsequently sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were several other classmates who were also involved. In these rare but unpleasant cases, that’s where our involvement would normally end.
The post goes on to explain how criminal charges were filed against four Google executives, a case we’ve been following for some time. Prosecutors argued that Google had to have known the video was online for two months before being notified by the police.
Convicted for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code were:
- David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer
- Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy council
- George Reyes, Google’s former chief financial officer
Cleared was Arvind Desikan, who was a senior product marketing manager at the time the case was filed. He was apparently acquitted before the other rulings came down. None of the executive attended the trail. Google lawyers argued on their behalf.
Google blog post said the company will appeal the convictions and blasted a warning that the case threatens the web itself:
But we 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. 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.
Aside from this case, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been working to place new rules making those hosting online video, such as Google through its YouTube service, more vulnerable to copyright and libel actions. These came after Berlusconi was attacked in December and government ministers worried about the internet as an instigating factor. Berlusconi’s company Mediaset has also sued Google over videos hosted on YouTube. Mediaset won in that case. Google is appealing.
Google also faces more Italian troubles. A newspaper federation asked for the company to be investigated on antitrust grounds. Our Debunking The Italian Newspapers’ Antitrust Allegations Against Google article has more about that.
Google also faces broader antitrust issues in Europe, as the EU has just opened an investigation into some of the companies actions. Is Redmond The Puppet Master In Google EU Anti-Trust Investigation? covers more about this.
For related news, see Techmeme.
Postscript by Barry Schwartz on December 21, 2012. Reuters reports the executives were acquitted on these charges.