The news broke this morning that a judge in Milan has convicted three Google employees for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code.
You can read, what I call, skewed reporting in The New York Times (note: the Reuters article does not even bring up the point that the video was in the top one position for two months before the Vivi Down organization asked the company to remove the video).
I'm here to present the other side to this news story, to get away from the extremist viewpoint that this case can only mean the end to an "open and free Internet."
"We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question," Is the official response given by Google.
The response continues: "...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.... 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."
Yes, Google is to be commended for taking down the video when notified by Italian police, and also for working with authorities to identify the person responsible for uploading the video and ultimately leading to her conviction for her role.
The other side of the story though, that I do not see news outlets reporting, is that Google has often practiced its "Do No Evil" motto with regards to videos and other types of content uploaded to companies it owns, such as YouTube. That Google Italy is "deeply troubled" is not an appropriate response to a video that is clearly criminal in nature and that was disseminated through its company channels.
Google created technology for YouTube that uses pattern recognition to identify files containing child sex abuse. This was created from a program Google originally developed to block copyrighted videos. If, like Google Italy states, "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," then that logic would also apply to child pornography and copyrighted videos. Clearly, that logic does not, and Google has recognized that by utilizing its technological savvy to distinguish videos that are entertaining or documentary in nature versus those that are criminal in nature.
"Common sense" dictates that Google Italy should have been aware of a video that was number one on its site for two months. This case should be a lesson to Google; when an American-based company notices a failure of employees to act responsibly and in accordance with our constitutional rights, that company should act just as swiftly to respond accordingly and address the issue at hand.
Freedom of speech must be balanced with other constitutional rights, such as the right to privacy (as protected by the Bill of Rights), and rights protected by criminal laws. Google has recognized that in the past. Why it failed to do so this morning is "deeply troubling."
For a background on this case:. In 2006, a video was uploaded to the Google Video website (a site operated by Google before Google purchased YouTube) of a boy with Down's Syndrome being beaten and insulted by his classmates in Turin. This video climbed to the number one position in the most-viewed section, as reported by numerous news outlets, including The Daily Telegraph.
This morning, the announcement came that a judge in Milan convicted three Google Italy employees of violating privacy and gave them six months suspended sentences. These employees are: David Carl Drummond, who served as chairman of the board of Google Italy at the time, George De Los Reyes, a board member who has since retired, and privacy director Peter Fleischer.