Three Google executives have been found guilty and given six month suspended sentences in a case revolving around the posting of a video to YouTube which shows a teenager with Down's Syndrome being bullied.
According to the BBC Google itself is none too happy with the verdict, quoting the Chief Legal Office at the search giant, David Drummond, as saying he intends "to vigorously appeal" what he called a "dangerous ruling" which sets "a chilling precedent". Drummond is outraged that individuals at Google were targeted by the Italian prosecutors when they had nothing to do with making the film nor uploading it to YouTube. If they can be found to be criminally liable just because of the positions they hold in the company, Drummond argues, then "every employee of any internet hosting service faces similar liability".
The whole case, which took place in Italy, is somewhat surprising it has to be said. Under Italian law it was argued, and the judge in the case agreed, Google employees were guilty of privacy violations because they did not seek consent from all of the parties featured in the video before publishing it. Ironically, the privacy counsel at Google, Peter Fleischer, was one of those found guilty.
You can't watch the video as Google withdrew it within hours of being alerted to the content, which included the boy suffering from Down's Syndrome being hit with a tissue box and taunted by other teenagers. That, you might imagine, would count for something. After all, given the amount of video footage uploaded to YouTube has recently risen to an astonishing 20 hours per minute, surely you cannot expect the company to screen every single frame for acceptable content before it is released for public consumption can you? As the chaps over at Techdirt point out "rather than filing a suit against Google the company, Italian prosecutors chose to file the lawsuit against four execs at the company, most of whom had nothing to do with the company's Italian operations".
Most of the legal types at Google are confident that the verdict and sentences will be overturned on appeal. Let's hope so, otherwise it has been a very bad week for companies doing business online in Italy and could see the withdrawal of services such as YouTube from the region to prevent similar miscarriages of justice from happening in the future.
I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .
I was very concerned when I heard about this. It is such an unrealistic expectation on Google to monitor everything that happens on their services. If there is a concern, a user of the service(s) should report it to Google - if they fail to react within a reasonable time frame and do not co-operate with the authorities in apprehending the scum that created and uploaded this video then I could see some grounds for a warning to be issued to Google.
I cannot believe the Italian courts allowed this case to go ahead - it is absolutely ludicrous! It's quite shocking that they are not able to see that their logic is completely flawed. I assume Google had a good legal defense team - it would appear no amount of metaphors will convince the Italian justice system of their mistake. Perhaps a closer-to-home metaphor may work - why doesn't someone sue the Italian Courts on behalf of the Italian public, for every criminal yet to commit a crime in Italy. Better still, sue them for every re-offending criminal - at least you've got something more to work with on that one.
It does open a debate - not so much the monitoring of content on YouTube, but the system for reporting questionable/horrible content. Should an independent body be responsible for it, much like some social networking sites have done recently to combat child grooming? Should there be a legal requirement regarding response times and course of action? Normally I find that Google are pretty swift to react to flagged content. The thumbs-down commenting system is good too. More than 6 people disapprove and it's removed so nobody else can see it and stoke an ever-lasting flame war. "Normal" improvements in line with technological advances aside, I don't think it's fair to expect significantly more from Google.