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Google Executives Convicted for Bullying Video

This story goes back pretty far, so you're forgiven if you've forgotten some of the details. In 2006, a video was uploaded to the now obsolete video sharing site, Google Video. Filmed by a group of teenage boys, the video showed the youths teasing an autistic classmate.  The clip remained online for two months until Google was notified of its presence by Italian police. The video was removed within 24 hours.

However, despite Google's timely removal of the clip, advocacy groups claimed the video should never have been posted to the site at all. As you can imagine, Google wasn't impressed. The search engine's cooperation led to the boys involved being punished; Google had worked with 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. How could Google be at fault here? Advocacy groups claimed that in allowing it to appear online, Google violated the autistic boy’s privacy. A local prosecutor indicted four Google executives for criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. None of the execs charged had anything to do with the video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it, but still, they were on trial.

The executives were named as David Carl Drummond, head of Google Italy's managing board; George De Los Reyes, a board member; Peter Fleitcher, in charge of privacy protection in Europe; and Arvind Desikan, head of videos for Europe stood trial in Milan, Italy on charges of criminal defamation and violation of privacy.

Fast forward a few years and several delays, to a trial that took place last week in Milan. Three of the four executives were convicted.

Judge Oscar Magi cleared David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes of criminal defamation but convicted all three for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code.

Google has said it will appeal the decision.

"We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all."

However, Google is not just doing this for the employees involved. The search engine has said on previous occasions that seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open Internet.

A post discussing the ruling on the Google blog declares:

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.

Read the full post here.