An Italian court on Wednesday convicted three Google executives of privacy violations. The court ruled the Google employees failed to act quickly enough to remove a video online showing a boy suffering from Down syndrome being bullied.
In the first such criminal trial of its kind, Italian judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three Google executives to a six-month suspended sentence. They were acquitted of defamation charges.
An advocacy group for people with Down syndrome, "Vivi Down", had sought the charges against the Google executives. The group had alerted prosecutors to the 2006 video, which showed a boy with Down syndrome in Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school.
Google Italy, which is based in Milan, argued that it removed the video immediately after being notified and that it cooperated with Italian authorities to help identify the bullies and bring them to justice.
But the advocacy group disagreed and prosecutors accused Google of negligence saying the video remained online for two months even though many users had asked for it to be removed. They said Google executives failed to react swiftly to complaints.
The ruling came at a significant time in Italy as there is much debate over the need to regulate and restrict hate pages and wrongful content on the Internet. Prosecutors insisted the case was not about censorship.
Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo said the verdict was a clear statement that a company's rights cannot prevail over a person's dignity.
Google executives said the decision was astonishing and deeply troubling. Senior Communications manager Bill Echikson said they would appeal the Milan court ruling.
"We are going to appeal this decision because we believe that it poses a crucial question for the freedom on which the Internet is built," said Bill Echikson. "None of these three employees had anything to do with this video, they didn't upload it, they didn't film it, they didn't review it and yet they have been found guilty".
Google has expressed concern over the ruling because it will force providers to pre-screen thousands of hours of footage that is uploaded onto sites like YouTube.
But there are many users who think this is the right way to go. Just this week in Italy, an Italian Facebook group appeared proposing that children with Down syndrome be used for target practice. The site was forced to shut down and Italy's Equality Minister said such content would not be tolerated.