An Italian court convicted three Google executives of privacy violations Wednesday for not acting quickly enough to remove an online video showing bullies abusing an autistic boy.
In the first criminal trial of its kind, Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the men to six-month suspended sentences and absolved them of defamation charges. A fourth defendant, charged only with defamation, was acquitted.
Google said it would appeal.
“The judge has decided I’m primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video,” Google’s global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said in a statement.
Google said it considered the trial a threat to Internet freedom because it could force providers to attempt the impossible — prescreening thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto sites such as YouTube.
“It attacks the principles of freedom on which the Internet was built,” Google spokesman Bill Echikson said.
Also convicted were Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond and retired Chief Financial Officer George Reyes.
Senior Product Marketing Manager Arvind Desikan was acquitted.
Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome, alerted prosecutors to the 2006 video showing an autistic boy in Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school. In the footage, the youth is mistreated while one teen pretends to call Vivi Down.
Google Italy eventually removed the video. Because of the footage and Google’s cooperation, the four bullies were identified and sentenced by a juvenile court to community service.
All four executives, who were tried in absentia, denied wrongdoing. Prosecutors argued that it shot to the top of a most-viewed list and should have been noticed.