Google employees convicted by Italian court

Google employees convicted by Italian court

Three Google employees have been convicted of privacy violations over a video uploaded by a third party - despite its subsequent removal.

Google has vowed to defend its employees following a conviction of failure to adhere to Italian privacy codes and accusations of criminal defamation as a result of a video uploaded to its Google Video service.

According to the official Google Blog, the company was informed by the Italian police that it was hosting a video of students at a school in Turin bullying a classmate suffering from autism - a video the company describes as "totally reprehensible" in nature. According to Google, the video was removed from the site "within hours of being notified by Italian police," while the company also "worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it to Google Video."

The result of the investigation was that the woman responsible was sentenced to ten months community service, while other individuals identified from the video footage received similar sentences. So far, it's business-as-usual for a video hosting company.

Where the story takes a turn for the strange is in the decision by a public prosecutor to indict four Google employees with charges of criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. The four employees - named as David Drummond, Avind Desikan, Peter Fleischer, and George Reyes - are described by Google as not having "anything to do with the video [...] they did not appear in it, film it, upload it, or review it [...] none of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video's existence until after it was removed."

Despite this - and despite the fact that George Reyes left the company back in 2008 - a court in Milan has convicted three of the four defendants on charges of failing to comply with privacy laws, with only Arvind Desikan avoiding a guilty verdict. All four employees have been found not guilty on the charges of criminal defamation.

Matt Sucherman, vice president and deputy general counsel for the company's EMEA operations, describes the company as "deeply troubled" by what it claims is an attack "on the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built." Claiming that "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," Sucherman points out that "European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbour from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence" - a provision which appears to have failed to protect the company and its employees in this instance.

Sucherman believes that without this safe harbour provision protecting content hosters, "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 — [and] then the Web as we know it will cease to exist," along with "many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings."

Describing the decision as "astonishing" and stating that "the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question [...] it is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all," Google has vowed to appeal the convictions in order to clear its employees' names - and to clarify the safe harbour provision for future cases.

Do you believe Google - and its employees as individuals - should be held responsible for all content uploaded to its sites, or should the fact that the company took the file down once notified and helped with the subsequent investigation of those responsible for the abuse have protected it? Share your thoughts over in the forums.


Discuss in the forums Reply
Unknownsock 25th February 2010, 10:41 Quote
I Still don't understand how there can be so much BS in this world.

You have to be an idiot to agree with these convictions.
yakyb 25th February 2010, 10:43 Quote
this is disgusting
Sleepstreamer 25th February 2010, 10:51 Quote
That is just completely moronic
Jenny_Y8S 25th February 2010, 10:54 Quote
This is an insane judgement that will get thrown out sooner or later.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every internet provider, ISP etc all decided to switch themselves off until this was all sorted out. Think of it, no google, no banking, no government agencies, nothing. Money and SLAs mean it will never happen of course, but I for one would laugh.
rimscar 25th February 2010, 11:09 Quote
just goes to show how much disconnect there is between the laws that govern man and the actual man himself.....
utter utter stupidity from the people who contributed so much to western civilisation
BlackMage23 25th February 2010, 11:46 Quote
All the companies that have any social networking sites should just boycott Italy until this is sorted out.
eddtox 25th February 2010, 12:22 Quote
Why does the prosecution argue that they failed to comply with privacy laws? Any word on the actual arguments used?
tank_rider 25th February 2010, 12:43 Quote
Any idea which technicality of the privacy law was used to prosecute them?

I can't believe a jury would come to any such conclusion when considering all the implications.

I'd love to see google and all major content hosting companies shut Italy out until this is sorted.
frojoe 25th February 2010, 15:41 Quote
This was a moronic decision. If I was an of those employees, I would be glad I worked at Google for this, because I would imagine Google will throw some serious legal weight behind these guys. It is both upsetting on the basis of just this case, but is also a terrible precedent. Lets hope clearer heads prevail in an appeal.
chrisb2e9 25th February 2010, 15:53 Quote
I'm guessing the decision was made by a judge who thinks the Ipad is something that women use monthly...
DarkRose 25th February 2010, 16:31 Quote
I think Google should just pull out of Italy the same way it did in Chin.... Hold on, never mind, Google made an empty threat to China and hasn't followed through yet. Hopefully they'll back their employees in Italy better.
chrisds 25th February 2010, 18:16 Quote
LucusLoC 25th February 2010, 18:43 Quote
i have always held the belief that companies, like individuals, should be able to act in a bigoted, self destructive manner and the consumer should be the one to decide whether or not to do business with them. many companies set stupid precedent in their business dealings, and they either learn for their mistakes, loose gobs of cash or go under. governments do not have that luxury. when a government sets stupid precedent it must be fought tooth and nail, least we loose even more of our freedom to power hungry "leaders." i applaud google for not taking this one laying down, and wish them the best of luck. the EU needs to be taken down a few notches (not saying that any other country is better, we are all heading away from freedom as a treasured value)
Faulk_Wulf 25th February 2010, 18:51 Quote
Originally Posted by DarkRose
I think Google should just pull out of Italy the same way it did in Chin.... Hold on, never mind, Google made an empty threat to China and hasn't followed through yet. Hopefully they'll back their employees in Italy better.

Actually they did follow through. They stopped censoring their searches.
Jaguar_Infinity 25th February 2010, 22:31 Quote
I think it would be unlikely that Google would pull out of Italy. Simply put, they would make more money from operating in Italy than they would spend on taking their legal challenge all the way to the European courts. What could be interesting is if they pulled out for a week as a protest, the taste of disruption that would be caused when all Google services are withdrawn just for a week would send a big message. Of course if they did that there would be the inevitable cries of Google being too powerfull and exploiting their position but it would still be a big message to send.
DaMightyMouse 26th February 2010, 06:04 Quote
kosch 26th February 2010, 17:55 Quote
Google to Borg italy just like when Tesco invaded Denmark in 2031.
Neox010 26th February 2010, 18:00 Quote
It is insane, this could have easily been kept out of the courts, and sorted out with a slap on the wrist, no person(s) was hurt by this.

I'd rather they spent their resources on solving things which are worthy of the courts.
Nickel 28th February 2010, 22:24 Quote
just insane
MementoOfLaw 2nd March 2010, 20:36 Quote
Originally Posted by Neox010
It is insane, this could have easily been kept out of the courts, and sorted out with a slap on the wrist, no person(s) was hurt by this.

I'd rather they spent their resources on solving things which are worthy of the courts.

Not only was the court's time wasted, they went one further. The charges were criminal.

I already loathe it enough when courts have to decide petty civil disputes between two private parties, but in this case it was the government itself that brought the frivolous suit.

The charges were for "criminal defamation", a charge that doesn't exist in most US states, and goes unprosecuted in others. It was a bench trial, and those charged were not Italian citizens. Just about every indication there is of a dog and pony show.
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