Milan: In a landmark ruling, an Italian court Wednesday found three Google executives guilty of violating the privacy of an autistic child after abuse by his schoolmates was posted on the Internet.
Judge Oscar Magi in Milan court sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence for violating privacy but absolved them of defamation charges.
Google’s senior vice-president and chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer were convicted of privacy violations. Senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan was acquitted.
“The rights of a company cannot have precedence over the dignity of people,” said Alfredo Robledo, one of the Milan prosecutors.
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 the northern city of Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school.
Prosecutors accused the executives of defamation of character and failing to oversee personal content when the students uploaded the video on Google Video.
Google Italy, which is based in Milan, eventually removed the video, although the two sides disagreed on how fast the company reacted to complaints.
All four executives denied any wrongdoing in the case which has attracted international attention because of its implications regarding internet privacy.
Marco Pancini, Google’s senior policy counsel in Italy, Wednesday described the sentence as “an attack on fundamental principles of freedom”.
“Today the judge in Milan has sentenced three Google employees declaring that the employees of an internet platform are criminally responsible for illegal activity committed by a third party,” he said.
“We will appeal against a decision that we don’t consider surprising. Our colleagues have nothing to do with this video,” he said.
“They are not in the video, they have not filmed it, downloaded it or seen it.”
The four bullies were identified and sentenced by a juvenile court to community service.
The ruling comes as the Italian government is looking at tighter restrictions on social networks and YouTube, which is owned by the American-based Google.
Mediaset, the company owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is also seeking 500 million euros in damages from Google-owned YouTube for copyright infringement.