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12/21/2012
09:55 AM
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Google Privacy Convictions Overturned By Italian Court

Three Google executives had been convicted of violating Italian privacy law after a video of a boy being bullied was uploaded to Google Video.

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The conviction of three Google executives on charges of violating Italian privacy law was overturned Friday by an Italian appeals court.

Google said that the ruling represented "a total victory," reported AP.

The defendants' attorney, Giulia Bongiorno, said that his response to the ruling was "absolute satisfaction, but it isn't surprising to me--honestly the conviction was based on nothing," reported Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

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Charges of violating Italian privacy law had been filed against three Google executives, after a three-minute mobile phone video of a teenager with Down syndrome being bullied was uploaded in 2006 to Italian Google Video, which was the precursor to Google Italia YouTube. Less than 24 hours after being alerted to the video's existence, Google removed it.

"The video was totally reprehensible and violated Google Video's terms and conditions of service," said Google's head of global privacy, Peter Fleischer, in a blog post. "Google took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police of the presence of the offensive video, consistent with its policy to remove any content that violates the terms and conditions of service."

News reports about the video, however, sparked outrage across Italy, and the four boys responsible for creating the video--and bullying the boy--were sentenced in a court for minors to community service.

In 2008, a Milan prosecutor then sued Fleischer, as well as chief legal officer David Drummond, the now retired chief financial officer George De Los Reyes, and the former head of Google Video for Europe, Arvind Desikan, for failing to prevent the video from being uploaded in the first place, as well as allowing it to remain online for two months, during which time it was viewed more than 12,000 times. The charges carried a maximum penalty of three years' incarceration.

The charges came despite the Google executives having no hand in the video's creation or uploading. "None of us ... had anything to do with this video. We did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of us knew the people involved or were even aware of the video's existence until after it was removed," said Fleischer. Fleischer didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the overturned convictions.

The Italian case, according to legal experts, was a debate about whether content-hosting websites in Italy should be liable for the content they publish--as is the case with newspapers, and television and radio stations--or if online content hosts should be treated as Internet service providers, and indemnified from prosecution so long as they abide by terms of service that require them to expeditiously remove objectionable or illegal content, after receiving an official takedown notice.

Under EU law, hosting providers aren't supposed to be held liable for the content they host, so long as they comply rapidly with official takedown orders. But in 2010, a lower Italian court upheld convictions against Fleischer, Drummond, and De Los Reyes, and gave the men a six-month, suspended sentence. Google has been fighting since then to have the convictions--which have also been vigorously protested by the U.S. embassy in Italy--overturned.

"We're very happy that the verdict has been reversed and our colleagues' names have been cleared. Of course, while we are delighted with the appeal, our thoughts continue to be with the family who have been through the ordeal," said Google spokesman Stephen Rosenthal via email.

Tech spending is looking up, but IT must focus more on customers and less on internal systems. Also in the new, all-digital Outlook 2013 issue of InformationWeek: Five painless rules for encryption. (Free registration required.)

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Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/22/2012 | 1:12:37 PM
re: Google Privacy Convictions Overturned By Italian Court
Thanks very much for the clarification on the fourth person being convicted of defamation. And yes, the case does point to the confusion countries face when trying to hold people accountable for material published online.

While the boys who did bully the other teen and upload the video did just get community service, it's important to remember that they were minors, and tried in juvenile court.

It's also notable that the bullied teen and his family long ago withdrew from the case, helping to illustrate that by many accounts, the whole episode, including prosecuting the Google executives, got very out of control.

-- Mathew Schwartz
InformationWeek
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/22/2012 | 1:08:26 PM
re: Google Privacy Convictions Overturned By Italian Court
Thanks for the catch. Four people were sued; three convicted of privacy violations and sentenced to six months (suspended), and now all three of those convictions have been overturned. Thanks to "MyW0r1d" too for the clarification that the fourth person was convicted of defamation.

-- Mathew Schwartz
InformationWeek
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/21/2012 | 7:44:41 PM
re: Google Privacy Convictions Overturned By Italian Court
The italian press say 3 were convicted of privacy violations and 1 of defamation. The case though points to the confusion many nations are facing while defining rules to govern/regulate the Internet privacy and its businesses. Note the typical credibility of the Italian judicial system in general with the conviction of Google execs (even if suspended) while the actual purpetrators got community service. Google therefore justifibly retained one of if not the premiere, active Italian defense attorney.
ANON1234301472779
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ANON1234301472779,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/21/2012 | 5:35:30 PM
re: Google Privacy Convictions Overturned By Italian Court
So is it four men convicted and three convictions overturned, or only three convicted in the first place? Your headline disagrees with the body of the article; since "four" and "three" only contain one common letter, and that not in the same position, it is clearly not a typo.
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