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

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

December 21, 2012

3 Min Read

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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.)

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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