An Italian court has convicted three Google employees of violating privacy laws over a clip uploaded to Google Video. The only problem? The employees in question had nothing to do with it.
In 2006, Italian youth who were students at a school in the city of Turin made the boneheaded decision to film a video of themselves harassing and bullying an autistic classmate. Then, they made an even more boneheaded decision to upload said video to Google Video – I don’t know, maybe they wanted to be internet-famous or something.
According to the official Google blog, the company worked quickly to remove the “reprehensible” video once it had been contacted by the Italian police, and cooperated with law enforcement in order to identify the person responsible for uploading it. The uploader and several of her classmates involved in the incident were tried and sentenced to 10 months of community service by a Turin court – which is where the story ends, right?
Wrong. A Milan prosecutor decided to bring charges against four Google employees (one of which is no longer at the company) over said video. The quartet was charged with criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code, despite Google’s claims that none of the four ever had any connection to the video whatsoever: “To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this 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.”
Even so, earlier today a Milan judge convicted 3 of the 4 defendants (including the one who left the company in 2008) on the grounds that they had failed to comply with the privacy code; all four were acquitted on grounds of criminal defamation. This decision is troubling, writes Google’s Matt Sucherman, VP and Deputy General Counsel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, because of the ramifications it has for “the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built.”
The ruling essentially means that providers and hosting platforms like Google, Flickr, and Facebook are criminally liable for anything that may be uploaded onto their networks by any user whatsoever, argues Sucherman. Should hosting services be responsible for policing every single file that comes to them beforehand (especially with something as massive as Google), or is it enough to swiftly comply when asked to remove something?
“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,” writes Sucherman.
“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.”
It’s a bit of a melodramatic conclusion to the blog post in question, but there’s no denying that the man has a point. Arguing that hosting providers are responsible for what is posted to their networks is one thing – arguing that they’re criminally liable is another thing entirely.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that the video in question was probably pretty horrible, but should the blame for that fall on the shoulders of the service that hosted it, or the people who made and uploaded it in the first place?
On a lighter note: You guys have no idea how hard it was to not make an A-Team joke through this whole piece.