Forget Amanda Knox. The future of the Web is on trial in Italy.
Four Google executives may be using Google Translate to brush up on Italian legalisms this month. The chief privacy counsel, chief legal officer, former CFO, and a marketing executive are being tried in Milan for defamation and privacy violations, reports the New York Times.
How did these Google bigwigs end up in a courtroom in Milan? The reason is that they didn’t do anything… at least for two months.
In 2006, three Italian boys harassed an autistic classmate in Turin and uploaded video of the taunting to Google Video. It took Google two months to remove the videos.
Though the European Union has a law that’s similar to Section 230 in the U.S. — immunizing website hosts from legal responsibility for content posted to their sites by users — Italy is arguing this doesn’t apply to Google, because the company is a media company not a “technical intermediary.” That would mean it should be vetting content before it’s posted.
The trial is less titillating than that of Amanda Knox — no female co-eds, Italian boyfriends, or murder — but its resolution will have a huge impact on the future of Web development and the responsibility of content providers in Europe:
All of these clashes serve as reminders of the difficulty of reconciling the borderless nature of the Internet with national differences on matters like privacy or freedom of speech. Google has had other cultural clashes in Europe, where data protection standards, for example, are tighter than in the United States…
Mr. Fleischer declined to discuss Google’s possible responses to a guilty verdict in the trial in Milan, or to other adverse legal or legislative developments in Italy. Might the company scale back its presence in Italy, or pull out entirely? If the ruling went against the Google executives, “it would not be good for the development of Web 2.0 business models, that’s as clear as day,” he said.
If they’re found guilty, I suspect Americans will be even more outraged than they were over the Amanda Knox verdict. That is, if they notice it.