Google….Guilty?

As of last week, three Google executives were found guilty of violating privacy laws in Milan, Italy.

Apparently, a video of Italian students bullying an autistic child ended up on Google in 2006.  Italian police let Google know, and the company removed the content.  Google also says that it did what it could to help police identify those who were shown in the video as well as the individual who uploaded it.  The result?  The uploader and other students were sentenced to 10 months of community service.

The Italian courts then indicted four executives from Google for defamation and violation of privacy laws.  Three of the four were found guilty of violation of privacy, and all four were found not guilty of defamation.  This case is slippery.  After all, to what extent should hosting sites be held responsible for user-placed content?  Most hosts do have some sort of policy on this subject, but should the law be allowed to override what’s stated by the site itself, and if so, to what extent?  Law and the Internet tend to advance at different rates.  Throw in the monkey wrench of different countries’ legal jurisdictions, and you’ve got a massive issue that, frankly, I don’t think anyone is quite ready to handle.  According to the Italian media, elements of the arguments presented stated that the trial was “not about Internet freedom, but whether a free zone exists where laws do not apply.”

On a side note, Internet bullying laws have been put in place in the United States and many other countries, but has anyone done nearly as much to stop ACTUAL playground bullying?  Bullying in schools is a huge issue, and the law has certainly looked the other way on that one.

It looks like the United States backs Google on the privacy issue.  The executives face sentences from six months to one year.  Google plans to appeal the ruling, but that might not be the end of its legal troubles.   It’s under investigation by European antitrust officials.

I’m interested to hear more opinions on this one.  When I get the chance, I’ll drag out Ye Olde International Law Textbook and see what I can find, as well.

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