Three Google execs convicted of privacy violations

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The Independent Tech

Three Google executives were convicted of privacy violations today in allowing a video of an autistic boy being abused to be posted online — a case that has been closely watched for its implications on Internet freedom.

Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence and absolved them of defamation charges. A fourth defendant was acquitted altogether.

The trial had been closely watched since it could help define whether the Internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, had said it considered the trial a threat to Internet freedom because it could force providers to attempt an impossible task — prescreening the thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto sites like YouTube.

Prosecutors insisted the case wasn't about censorship but about balancing freedom of expression with the rights of an individual.

The charges were sought by Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome. The group alerted prosecutors to the 2006 video showing an autistic student in Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school. In the footage, the youth is being mistreated while one of the teenagers puts in a mock telephone call to Vivi Down.

Google Italy, which is based in Milan, eventually took down the video, though the two sides disagree on how fast the company reacted to complaints. Thanks to the footage and Google's cooperation, the four bullies were identified and sentenced by a juvenile court to community service.

The events shortly preceded Google's 2006 acquisition of YouTube.

All four executives denied wrongdoing. None was in any way involved with the production of the video or uploading it onto the viewing platform, but prosecutors argued that it shot to the top of a most-viewed list and should have been noticed.

Convicted of privacy violations were Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer. Senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan was acquitted.

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