Google chiefs are convicted over video of bullying
Three Google executives were convicted yesterday of breaking privacy laws by allowing disturbing footage of a disabled Italian boy being bullied to be posted on the internet.
The ruling was the first of its kind and was condemned by Tom Watson, a British Labour MP, as "the biggest threat to internet freedom we have seen".
The trial centred on footage, posted on Google Videos, of a teenager with Down syndrome who was being bullied by four other boys at a Turin school.
The footage was posted in September 2006 and became the most viewed clip on Google Italy, where it remained for two months before it was removed.
Prosecutors in Milan brought the charges after being contacted by the charity Viva Down and argued that the boy's privacy had been violated and that Google should have removed the footage quicker than it did.
In the footage, the boy was seen cowering as he was punched and kicked, before one of the youths attacking him made a mocking call to the Viva Down charity.
The three executives found guilty by Judge Oscar Magi were David Carl Drummond, senior vice-president, George De Los Reyes, a retired financial executive, and privacy director Peter Fleischer.
The three were found guilty of violating privacy laws and given six-month suspended prison sentences, while they were cleared of defamation.
A fourth executive, Arvind Desikan, of Google Video Europe, was cleared. None of the four were in court for the hearing, which was held in private. The judge ruled that the verdict should be published in leading Italian newspapers.
A claim for compensation from Viva Down was rejected as the executives were found not guilty of defamation.
The events in the footage took place shortly before Google bought YouTube in 2006. All four Google executives denied wrongdoing.
Lawyers for California-based Google had argued that they were not responsible for material uploaded on to the web and that the sheer volume of material which would have to be previewed before being posted made it impossible to do so.
The four bullies were later convicted in a youth court.
After the hearing, prosecutor Alfredo Robledo said: "We are very satisfied because with this trial we have dealt with a serious problem, that is, protecting a person and that should always come above business freedom.''
Peter Barron, Google's communications director, said: "The court's decision is a fundamental attack on the freedom of the internet in Italy. Employees who had nothing to do with the filming or uploading of the video have a criminal record for something they had no control over, and it is outrageous." (© Daily Telegraph, London)