Conviction of Google’s Italian execs gives privacy a bad name

Word comes this morning that a jury in Italy has convicted a trio of Google employees over the brief posting of a video that showed four boys bullying another child who has Down’s Syndrome. The employees received suspended six-month sentences.

From a BBC report: “The Google employees were accused of breaking Italian law by allowing the video to be posted online.Judge Oscar Magi absolved the three of defamation but convicted them of privacy violations.The UK’s former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said the case gave privacy laws a ‘bad name’.”

Giving privacy a bad name: That’s an excellent way to frame the issue.

The prosecutor’s justification rings no more true after the verdict than it has as this case unfolded: “A company’s rights cannot prevail over a person’s dignity. This sentence sends a clear signal,” public prosecutor Alfredo Robledo told reporters outside the Milan courthouse.

It sends a clear signal, all right; it sends the signal that Italian law and Italian law enforcement have gone mad.

Google’s response from the International Business Times: “In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload,” said Matt Sucherman, Google’s Deputy General Counsel. “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.” Google said on Wednesday that a ruling against its top Italian executives attacks the “principles of freedom” of the Internet and poses a serious threat to the Web.

Common sense? Without a shadow of a doubt. In fact, the proposition is so indisputable as to raise the question of whether there is an agenda outside the rule of law that drove this prosecution.

A serious threat to the Web? Again, beyond dispute.

Lest anyone question my sympathies for the bullied boy, let me note – despite believing it wholly unnecessary under these circumstances – that I am the father of an 8-year-old autistic boy. Were my son bullied in this fashion, I would be incensed and expect consequences for those responsible. The four boys who were responsible in the Italian case were expelled from school. That’s justice.

Google was not any more responsible here than the postal service would be for delivering a ransom note.

Madness. There’s no other way to explain this verdict.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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