Google said. “We also worked with the police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it…”
Three Google bosses were today convicted of violating the privacy of a boy with Down’s syndrome in a ruling that could also affect websites such as YouTube and Facebook.
The men received suspended six-month sentences after the internet giant allowed a video of the teenager being abused to be posted online.
“This is the biggest threat to internet freedom we have seen in Europe,” said MP Tom Watson. “The only people who will support this decision are Silvio Berlusconi and the governments of China and Iran. It effectively breaks the internet in Italy.”
The two prosecutors who brought the case against the US-based firm praised the ruling for protecting personal interest above corporate profit. “We are very satisfied because by means of this trial we have posed a serious problem: that is to say, the protection of human beings, which must prevail over corporate interests,” they said in a statement.
The case stems from an incident in 2006 when four boys in Turin filmed and uploaded a 191-second clip of them bullying a schoolmate with Down’s syndrome. It shows the youths making fun of the boy, before punching and kicking him. One of the attackers then makes a mocking call to Viva Down, an advocacy group for people with Down’s syndrome. The complaint was brought by the charity and the boy’s father.
“The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police,” Google said. “We also worked with the police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was sentenced to 10 months community service, as were several other classmates.”
The case has potentially vast implications for the future of the internet. Hosting platforms such as Facebook and YouTube argue that they cannot be held responsible for content created by their users until they are informed that something is illegal. The Italian prosecutors contended that Google was negligent in not removing the video sooner.
All of Google’s employees, who were convicted in absentia, denied wrongdoing. It is expected that the company’s lawyers will argue on appeal that the verdict is at odds with an EU directive from 2000 that gave hosting platforms a so-called “safe harbour” from prosecution, so long as they acted promptly to remove illegal content.
In a statement, Google called the outcome of the case “surprising to say the least, since our colleagues had nothing to do with the video in question: they did not make it; they did not upload it, and they have not seen it.
“We are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason,” it added. “It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the internet is built. 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.”