(CN) – An Italian court on Wednesday convicted three Google executives of violating Italian privacy laws for allowing a Google Video user to post videos of an autistic boy being bullied by classmates.
The videos were posted in 2006 on Google Video, the online video-sharing service Google operated before purchasing YouTube.
Prosecutors said Google removed the clips only after complaints from ViviDown, an Italian advocacy group for people with Down syndrome.
Google called the ruling an “astonishing” attack on free speech and vowed to appeal.
“If company employees like me can be held criminally liable for any video on a hosting platform, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the video in question, then our liability is unlimited,” said Peter Fleischer, Google’s chief privacy counsel and one of the three convicted executives.
“The decision today therefore raises broader questions like the continued operation of many Internet platforms that are the essential foundations of freedom of expression in the digital age,” Fleischer said in a statement.
Guido Camera, a lawyer for ViviDown, told the Times that the organization is “definitely satisfied that someone has to take responsibility for this violation of privacy.”
The officials found guilty are Fleischer; David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer; and George Reyes, a former chief financial officer.
They were tried in absentia and received six-month suspended sentences.
Though the executives were convicted of privacy violations, they were cleared of defamation charges – a “contradictory” verdict, according to Drummond’s lawyer, Guiseppe Bana.
“The fact that the accusation of defamation did not pass is significant,” he told the Times.