MILAN – An Italian appeals court on Friday overturned the convictions of three Google executives who had been held criminally responsible for a video on a Google site that showed a disabled teen being bullied.
Google said it was “delighted” with the appellate ruling that cleared global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, its senior vice-president and chief legal officer David Drummond and retired chief financial officer George Reyes of any wrongdoing.
The original verdict raised concerns that Internet platforms could be forced to police their content in Italy, and beyond, while putting European privacy concerns at odds with the freewheeling nature of the Internet.
A lower court in 2010 convicted the three of privacy violations for a 2006 video posted on Google Video, a video-sharing service Google ran before the company acquired YouTube later that year.
None of the executives charged in the case were in any way involved in the posting of the video and Google said they took it down within two hours of being notified by authorities.
Google, in its final arguments before the court, noted 72 hours-worth of video is posted on YouTube every minute — which would be impossible to preview. That is up from 20 hours of video a minute at the time of the initial verdict.
Google and other hosting platforms generally rely on other users flagging objectionable content.
“We’re very happy that the verdict has been reversed and our colleagues’ names have been cleared,” Giorgia Abeltino, Policy Manager, Google Italy said in a statement. “Of course, while we are delighted with the appeal, our thoughts continue to be with the family, who have been through the ordeal.”
The footage in question showed an autistic student in Turin being pushed, pummeled with objects, including a pack of tissues, and insulted by classmates, who called him a “mongoloid.”
The prosecutor’s case — based on a complaint by an advocacy group — emphasized that the video had been viewed 5,500 times over the two months it was online, when it climbed to the top of Google Italy’s “most entertaining” video list and had more than 80 comments, including users urging its removal.
Google argued that it was unaware of the offensive material and acted swiftly to remove it after being notified by authorities.