MILAN –A Milan court convicted three Google Inc
executives for violating the privacy of an Italian boy with autism by letting a
video of him being bullied be posted on the site in 2006.
Google will appeal the six-month
suspended jail terms and said the verdict “poses a crucial question for
the freedom on which the internet is built,” since none of the three employees
found guilty had anything to do with the offending video.
“They didn’t upload it, they
didn’t film it, they didn’t review it and yet they have been found
guilty,” said Google’s senior communications manager, Bill Echikson, in
The court convicted senior
vice-president and chief legal officer David Drummond, former Google Italy board
member George De Los Reyes and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer. Senior
product marketing manager Arvind Desikan was acquitted.
The executives, none of whom are
based in Italy, do not face actual imprisonment as the sentences were
suspended, while an appeals process in Italy can take many years.
The complaint was brought by an
Italian advocacy group for people with Down’s syndrome, Vivi Down, and the
boy’s father, after four classmates at a Turin school uploaded a clip to Google
Video showing them bullying the boy.
Vivi Down was a plaintiff because
it was named by the boys in the bullying video, a lawyer for the group said.
However Google’s Echikson and the prosecutor said the boy actually had autism,
not Down’s as widely reported during the three years of the case.
Google argued that it removed the
video immediately after being notified and cooperated with Italian authorities
to help identify the bullies and bring them to justice.
It says that, as hosting platforms
that do not create their own content, Google Video, YouTube and Facebook cannot
be held responsible for content that others upload.
Drummond said in a statement the
verdict “sets a dangerous precedent” and meant “every employee
of any internet hosting service faces similar liability.”
He said the law was clear in Italy
and the European Union that “hosting providers like Google are not
required to monitor content that they host.
The prosecutors accused Google of
negligence, saying the video remained online for two months even though some
web users had already posted comments asking for it to be taken down.