Italy Hits Google Employees with Privacy Violations

Three current and one former Google employee have been charged with privacy-related crimes in Italy, and three of the men have been convicted. The criminal charges stemmed from a video showing an autistic child being bullied that appeared temporarily on the Google Video Web site, and Google maintains its employees weren't involved in the incident in any way.

The video in question was posted by a Google Video user and then pulled by Google once it alerted by Italian authorities. The company helped track down the suspect, and she was later sentenced to ten months of community service.

Italian authorities then decided to indict current Google employees David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer, and former Google employee George Reyes on charges of criminal defamation and failure to comply with Italian privacy codes. Mr. Drummond, Mr. Fleischer and Mr. Reyes were ultimately found guilty of violating the country's privacy codes.

According to Google, however, none of the men were involved in creating or posting the video, nor did they have any knowledge of it until after it was removed from the Google Video site.

"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," commented Matt Sucherman, Google's vice presidnet and deputy genreal counsel for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. "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."

In other words, Google is concerned that courts could use this conviction as grounds to hold hosting providers liable for all of the content end users upload. If courts do use the ruling in that way, Google posits that free speech on the Internet would be in jeopardy.

Mr. Sucherman added that the current practice of removing objectionable content when notified by authorities is common practice and recognized by European law, too.

"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," he said. "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."

Google plans to appeal the court's ruling.