Italy convicts Google execs over bullying video

Italy convicts Google execs over bullying video

Summary: Three Google executives have received suspended sentences in Milan after footage of a boy being bullied was uploaded to Google Video

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TOPICS: Networking
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An Italian court has convicted three Google executives of privacy offences, after a video of an autistic boy being bullied was uploaded to Google Video.

The executives — chief legal officer David Drummond, privacy counsel Peter Fleischer and former chief financial officer George Reyes — were given six-month suspended sentences for failing to comply with the Italian privacy code, but were exonerated from defamation charges. A fourth defendant, marketing executive Arvind Desikan, was acquitted on all charges.

The bullying video was uploaded in 2006 by schoolchildren in Turin, and the executives had no connection with the video other than their positions at Google at the time.

In a statement on Wednesday, Drummond and Fleischer — the only two of the convicted executives who still work for Google, as Reyes retired in 2008 — said they would "vigorously appeal" against the verdict.

"I am outraged by the decision of a judge in 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," Drummond said, adding that the ruling sets a "chilling precedent".

"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 positions at Google every employee of any internet hosting service faces similar liability," Drummond said.

Drummond pointed out that Google took the video down as soon as it found out it was on Google Video. He said European and Italian law "recognises that internet hosting providers like Google are not required to monitor content that they host".

Fleischer said he knew nothing of the video's existence until it had already been removed from Google Video. "I was very saddened by the plight of the boy in the video, not least as I have devoted my professional life to preserving and protecting personal privacy rights," he said.

The bullying video case is only one of several recent conflicts with the Italian authorities relating to Google's online video services. In December 2009, Mediaset — an Italian broadcaster founded and owned by prime minister and media baron Silvio Berlusconi — won a lawsuit against Google over Mediaset content that had been uploaded to Google-owned YouTube.

Then, in January this year, the Italian government also issued a decree stating that all websites showing videos would have to have an official licence to do so, and creating new fines for copyright infringement.

In his statement on Wednesday, Fleischer said the Italian court's verdict "raises broader questions like the continued operation of many internet platforms that are the essential foundations of freedom of expression in the digital age".

"I recognise that I am just a pawn in a larger battle of forces, but I remain confident that today's ruling will be overturned on appeal," Fleischer said.

Topic: Networking

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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4 comments
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  • Who's bullying who here?

    Did someone see "Google" and smell money? If this were all about the personal rights of the poor Down's Syndrome child, did the Italians go after the kids who did the bullying in the first place, filmed it and uploaded it? Or do they just want to "mark Google's card" so as to let them know that they're not going to let Google become the most important company in Italy? What if those kids had e-mailed the bullying video to each other - would the owners of all the Internet routers and destination SMTP servers be liable for failing to comply with the Italian privacy code?

    There's also a glaring issue pointing towards corruption in high places as the Italian Premier Berlusconi owns a media company that has already taken Google through the courts regarding a similar type of thing.

    I think that a conviction would have been in order if it could have been proved that Google failed to take action after hearing of the complaints. However, it seems that the guys at Google did remove the video as soon as they heard about it. Surely the intent of Google employees to do the right thing as soon as was humanly possible has to count for something.
    Fat Pop Do Wop
  • Autism

    One thing that should be pointed out, simply because it's been so widely misreported, is that the child in question suffers from autism, not Down Syndrome. The confusion seems to have come from the fact that it was a Down's charity that complained to Google about the video, after which they took it down.

    Otherwise, yes... it's all very scary.
    David Meyer
  • It does stink to high heaven.

    As Google say, it is not in Italian or European law that content has to be monitored. SO why did this case even get off the ground, let alone succeed? If this is just a witch hunt against Google, I would be taking this much further than a simple appeal, I would be at the door of the European courts claiming wrongful persecution. It does smell of corruption at the highest level.
    POD-daafa
  • I think we all have heard about . .

    corrupt actions in high places in " Berlusconi-land".
    I do NOT mean Italy as a nation !

    I expect the owner of Mediaset has a lot to do with this.

    Does it stink ?

    OH YEAH !
    hkommedal