Google Under Attack From EC and Italian Courts

The EC has received complaints about Google’s search ranking while four of its employees have been charged by an Italian court

Search giant Google is facing a war on two fronts in Europe, after an Italian court charged four of the company’s employees over an abusive video case, while the European Commission is responding to complaints about anti-competitive practices.

In a statement released on its blog today, Google reacted strongly to the decision of a public prosecutor in Milan to charge four Google employees in a case involving the bullying of an autistic child, which was loaded onto the company’s Google Video service in 2006. The search company said it helped police to identify the person responsible at the time who was eventually sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin. “In these rare but unpleasant cases, that’s where our involvement would normally end,” the company stated.

Italian authorities however decided to proceed with the case against Google and this week a Judge in Milan convicted three of the four defendants – David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes –  for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. “To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video’s existence until after it was removed,” Google stated.

Google said it will appeal the decision as it effectively makes owners of content platforms responsible for the content uploaded. “We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question,” Google stated. “Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.”

The search giant is also facing a potential investigation by the European Commission over the way it structures it’s search results, it emerged this week. According to reports, Google responded to the news that the EC had received complaints from UK comparison site Foundem and French legal search engine ejustice.fr.

“The Commission can confirm that it has received three complaints against Google which it is examining,” the EC said in a statement. “The Commission has not opened a formal investigation for the time being. As is usual when the Commission receives complaints, it informed Google earlier this month and asked the company to comment on the allegations. The Commission closely cooperates with the national competition authorities. No further information can be given at this stage.”

The comparison sites reportedly complained to the EC that Google’s search algorithm demotes their sites in searches as they compete with Google’s own services.

Meanwhile, the search giant claims that the Italian case has ramifications for all online content providers who allow users to upload content. “European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy,” the company stated.

“If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — 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.”

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