Google conviction the end of the internet as we know it?

Three Google executives were convicted of privacy violations in an Italian court to much dismay of the internet community and especially Google. The case involves a video of a boy with down syndrome being abused by a group of young people, including throwing a tissue-box at the boy. The abuse was filmed and posted on Google-owned YouTube. It appears that while several complaints were made about the video it remained on the site for 3 months. Once a formal complaint was listed the video was taken down and used as evidence against the group who were all convicted.

The Google executives were sentenced three to six month suspended sentences for privacy violations. The convictions have shocked the internet world as many feel this has big implications on companies that aggregatete content. Techdirt said:

“Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would make a ruling in this manner and think that it makes sense. As I said when the case first came up, you would think that suing the execs of the company that made the tissue box would make more sense than suing Google’s execs. Why not charge the execs of the company that made the camera that was used to film the incident? It’s hard to hear about this ruling and not consider the Italian legal system to be a joke.”

Techcrunch said:

“In other words an Italian court has found that employees of an Internet company are criminally responsible for content that users upload. The court is ignoring existing European law which gives hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. It’s at this point one wonders if we should just give up on Italy as ever gettingthe Internet. Google is appealing the decision, obviously. Look, Italy needs to get its act together and fast. I’m calling on Italian entrepreneurs, many of whom I know and respect to get involved in this issue.”

Not everybody agrees with this analysis. Some say Google cannot be absolved from responsibility for content on its site. Its business-model is based on hosting the content, they make money on the back of it so they should bear responsibility. These same people claim the fact that 20 hours of video is uploaded is no excuse not to check it (see the techcrunch comment string).

Google will appeal the decision and have expressed their disappointment on the ruling on their blog:

“But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. 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. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.”

The trial has now become a matter of principle and the appeal will be watched closely. Many feel that making staff personally responsible will make it  impossible for the Internet in its current shape to exist. Others feel the rights of the individual should be guarded against the interests of big companies who make money on the content being uploaded by its users.

What’s your opinion?

Picture: Stock Exchange | Scales | Stephen Stacey


Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses