Three Google executives were convicted of privacy violations Wednesday 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 absolved the three of defamation and acquitted a fourth defendant altogether. The three received a suspended six-month sentence for the conviction on violating the youth's privacy.
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 has said it considered the trial a threat to freedom on the Internet because it could force providers to attempt an impossible task — prescreening thousands of hours daily of YouTube footage.
Prosecutors insist the case is not about censorship but about balancing freedom of expression with the rights of an individual.
The four executives were tried in absentia in a closed-door trial.
All 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.
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.