Italian judge: Google profit prompted guilty verdict

A judge who convicted three Google execs over a video of the bullying of an autistic teen says the company's profit motive was behind his verdict.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Profit was the motive behind Google keeping online a video of an autistic teen being bullied, according to the Italian judge who convicted three company executives over it.

In a court document (PDF) released Monday, Judge Oscar Magi explained his rationale behind the guilty verdict earlier this year for three Google employees whom he said were responsible for the company keeping the video online. Magi said he found them guilty because he felt Google was trying to make a profit by selling ads on the site where the video appeared.

"In simple words, it is not the writing on the wall that constitutes a crime for the owner of the wall, but its commercial exploitation can," wrote Magi in the document, according to a translation from the Associated Press.

And although he acknowledged the difficulty in monitoring every single video posted online, the judge said Google must do a better job of filtering out certain content. He said that new technology should allow the company to set up more refined filters that could catch criminal activity in such videos.

"There is no doubt that the overwhelming speed of technical progress will allow, sooner or later, ever more stringent controls on uploaded data on the part of Web site managers," Magi wrote, according to AP. Further asserting that the Internet is not an "unlimited prairie where everything is permitted and nothing can be prohibited," the judge indicated that the trial should be a signal to Webmasters and Internet providers that they could be held liable for breaking certain laws by allowing such content to be posted.

In response to the judge's document, a Google representative released the following statement to CNET News:

"We are reading the full 111-page document from the judge. But as we said when the verdict was announced, this conviction attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. If these principles are swept aside, then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear. These are important points of principle, which is why we and our employees will vigorously appeal this decision."

In late February, Magi convicted three Google executives--David Drummond, chief legal officer; Peter Fleischer, chief privacy counsel; and George Reyes, former chief financial officer. The judge found them responsible for the posting of the video. All received suspended six-month jail sentences, while Arvind Desikan, a Google U.K. employee, was cleared of all charges.

The case was initially launched in 2008 by the court of Milan based on a complaint from Vivi Down, a group that acts on behalf of people with Down syndrome. The video itself was posted in 2006 on Google Video and showed a group of youths insulting, pushing, and throwing things at the autistic teenager outside a school in Turin, Italy. The video was online for two months where it received thousand of hits. According to The New York Times, the video "made it to the top of Google Italy's 'most entertaining' video list."

Google removed the video following complaints.