Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prosecutors in Italy want prison time for Google executives, in case of offensive online video of teen with Down syndrome

From The New York Times:

Italian prosecutors on Nov. 25 asked a judge to issue prison sentences for three Google executives and one former executive accused of defamation and failure to comply with privacy laws in a case that could alter the way Google operates in Italy and the rest of Europe.

The prosecutors contend that Google was negligent because it allowed a video of high school kids bullying a disabled classmate to stay on its Italian-language video service for two months in 2006. The company, based in California, says it removed the video several hours after being alerted of its existence.

The prosecutors submitted a 119-page document with evidence they say shows Google must have known about the video long before it was taken down.

The prosecutors rested their case after asking for a one-year sentence for three executives — David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer; Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel; and George Reyes, a former chief financial officer. They are seeking a six-month sentence for Arvind Desikan, who is now head of consumer marketing in Britain.

If found guilty, the four defendants, none of whom were present in court, would not serve jail time because sentences of less than three years are commuted in Italy for those who do not have a criminal record.

If prosecutors can persuade the judge the company knew the video was online and chose to do nothing, Google might be forced to change its operating practices in Italy and the rest of Europe by creating filters to flag offensive videos.

Google and the prosecutors agree the video was uploaded Sept. 8 and removed Nov. 7, 2006. The prosecutors presented evidence showing that in early October, a month before the video’s removal, there were comments posted saying that it should be taken down. One of those messages read, “This is shameful! This should be taken down immediately.”

“It is reasonable to imagine that comments like this were followed by requests by these same people that the video be removed,” the prosecutors wrote in the document they presented to the judge.

Prosecutors say the video was removed only after Vivi Down, an Italian association that defends the rights of people with Down Syndrome mentioned in the video, contacted authorities who then contacted Google.

Google, which will present its defense next month, said in a statement Wednesday that it “did exactly what is required under European and Italian law.”

“We took the video down when notified by the authorities and, thanks to our cooperation, the bullies who recorded and uploaded it have been identified and punished,” the statement said.

Google is apologizing for a racially offensive image of Michelle Obama that appeared near or at the top of the list when users searched for pictures of her on its site, The Associated Press reported from San Francisco.

Google placed a text ad above the image titled “Offensive Search Results” that states: “Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree.”

Users who clicked on the ad were directed to a letter from Google that explained that its results “can include disturbing content,” but noted that Google did not endorse content on those Web sites. “We apologize if you’ve had an upsetting experience using Google,” the company wrote.

The White House declined to comment.