Should Google Fight For Internet Freedom Or Privacy Of The Individual?

Privacy as we know it is being re-defined on the Internet and in the courts as we speak. How we view privacy today versus ten years ago has changed greatly due to the Web 2.0 environment of user-generated content. How we will view it ten years from now will be different yet still. While freedom of expression at times appears to infringe on privacy, we consistently wade through the gray areas to appease both sides. Google has been at the epicenter of many of these battles based on the number of individuals it touches daily via search, videos and over 250+ other products they offer the public.

Three Google executives have been convicted of privacy violations for allowing a video of an autistic boy being abused to be posted online. An Italian court issued the three Google executives a suspended six-month sentence in a case that has been closely monitored for its implications regarding Internet freedom.

On February 24, Google spokesman Bill Echikson issued a statement that Google was going to appeal Judge Oscar Magi's decision in Milan which sentenced David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, Peter Fleishcher, its global privacy counselor and George Reyes, Google's former CFO.

“This verdict is a great disappointment. It attacks the very principles of freedom of expression on which Internet was built,” said Google spokesman Bill Echikson. The rest of his statement can viewed here.

The ground-breaking legal pronouncement followed the posting of the distasteful video in the “fun videos” section of Google Video in September 2006. It was taken down two months later, after receiving 5,500 online views, as a result of an official complaint by the charity ViviDown, which represents the interests of Down Syndrome individuals. The charity became involved because one of the handicapped boy’s tormentors made a joking reference to the organization in the video.

The outcome was welcomed by Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo. “This trial wasn’t about freedom of the Internet, as some people have said. Instead, for the first time in Italy, there has been a discussion of the serious question of the rights of the individual in today’s society,” Robledo told reporters. “The rights of a business enterprise cannot take precedence over the dignity of the individual.”

So readers, please weigh in on this debate. Can Google be held responsible for content when the whole intent of user-generated sites like Google Video and YouTube is to provide individuals the opportunity to post what they choose. While I think Google has crossed the line themselves on privacy issues in the past, such as the issue surrounding the recent launch of it new social network Buzz (see previous blog, "Google Buzz Superstar")  - do you think the onus falls on the enterprise or the individual? If Google is at fault for not reviewing every entry onto to its Google Video site, aren't we taking steps backwards toward an antiquated Big Brother mentality?

Who's freedom is at stake here? The 'wisdom of crowds' or the privacy of the individual? Your feedback, thoughts and comments are appreciated.
Feb 24, 2010
by Anonymous


singing in a shower = freedom
singing on the street = still freedom
curing on the street and people getting offended = entering gray area, and your 'freedom' interfering with others freedom
shouting at people = a step higher

your freedom is only good till it does not interfere with the freedom of anyone else.

Mar 2, 2010
by Anonymous


Hi Ron,
I think there are many issues at work here. First, Google was created in the USA where we hold our freedoms extremely near and dear to our heart. I am completely ignorant of Italian sentiment regarding freedom, but I suspect their value system is not identical to that of the USA.
Second, what the Italian prosecutor said was interesting: an unauthorized video of a child was posted on the internet that violated his rights. Yes, an awful thing happened.
Google provided the tool and space for the harassers- the real bad guys here- to further humiliate the boy. However, Google also took the video down as soon as they were asked. The fact it was featured in the "fun videos" section is a sick and sorry malfunction of the engines determining popular videos. I choose not to believe it was not an employee of Google that picked the video to feature.
Should Google be held responsible for every video posted on it's servers? Part of me says yes- Facebook has an entire team responsible for keeping content cleanish. And YouTube has a "flag" option which I am sure is not just for show. Google did respond by taking the video down- just 5,500 views too late.
I do not believe Google acted maliciously, was negligent, or ignored the rights of the boy in the video. I don't see how a sentence will do anyone any good. Maybe scare Google into tougher action....of what, though?
The posters should surely be prosecuted. As for the changing definition of privacy on the web- it's the web. No one should have any expectation of privacy. They should know going in it is a big, bad, very public and easily searchable place. And if something lands on there about a child, a crime, or a person without their consent (i.e. the Erin Andrews skeeve video), it should be able to be flagged and taken down by the host in an acceptable amount of time.
What do other think about the laws of cyber-bullying?