Why Italy was right to find Google guilty
Freedom of speech and the future of the internet are at stake. An Italian court has found Google executives guilty after some students filmed themselves bullying a boy with Down's syndrome  and then uploaded the clip to Google Video. The students were later convicted for their actions.
According to Tom Watson MP, the decision to hold Google liable for publishing the video:
"is the biggest threat to internet freedom we have seen in Europe. The only people who will support this decision are Silvio Berlusconi and the governments of China and Iran. It effectively breaks the internet in Italy."
Well, Tom, you can make that Berlusconi, the Chinese and Iranian governments - and me.
Why it's right to find Google guilty
Google has made several statements arguing that the ruling is wrong - as have a lot of other people. Here's why I think they're wrong.
They took the video down straightaway: no they didn't
Google says it took the video down as soon as it was notified:
"We took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police."
But the prosecutors say it actually took two months:
"The prosecutors accused Google of negligence arguing the video remained online for two months even though some web users had already posted comments asking for it to be taken down."
So either they didn't realise people were reporting the video as offensive (due to an ineffective flagging system, or by not properly communicating the system for reporting video) or they were ignoring the reporting (negligence).
I'm not sure which it is. But if people are complaining that your platform is allowing abuse of a vulnerable boy, and you do nothing about it - either because you've ignored complaints or have no effective way to discover those complaints - it is right you are held to account.
The executives had nothing to do with it: wrong
According to a Google spokesman in Italy:
"We will be appealing against this verdict because the people in question had nothing to do with the uploading of the footage, they did not film it and they did not view it."
No, but they are senior executives at the company - responsible for the systems put in place to stop abusive content being published. If those systems have failed, it is right that senior executives are held responsible.
One of those found guilty is reported as saying:
"The judge has decided I'm primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google video."
Again, no, they've decided your systems for dealing with publishing videos of bullying and abuse of a boy were inadequate.
They can't preview everything: irrelevant
The Telegraph reports that lawyers for Google:
"argued that regulation would be impossible as it would have to preview thousands of hours of footage before it was uploaded every day onto sites like YouTube."
First, tough. You have set up a platform that allows people to publish things - some of which it's illegal or immoral to publish. If you can't police it properly, that's not our fault. Second, no one's arguing you should preview everything. But you need an adequate system for reporting material, and you didn't have one that worked in this case.
YouTube is like the post office: no it's not
According to the BBC, Richard Thomas, the UK's former information commission, says:
"it is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post".
It is exactly NOT like that. The postal system is not a publishing platform that allows people to broadcast what they think to anybody who wants to watch. Google Video / YouTube is.
The post office is a private, push system - if I want you to receive something by post, I have to send it to you personally. No one knows what's in the letter until you open it.
But if I want anyone to watch a video, I can leave it up on YouTube and forget about it - anyone can then see it by choosing to go and view it. I don't need to be involved in them seeing it, and anyone can see what the subject of the video is.
This is why Google can and ought to have systems in place to alert it when abusive videos being published, whereas the post office can't and shouldn't.
YouTube is a like a box of tissue: barrel scraping
Mike Masnick, co-founder of influential technology website TechDirt, is reported by the Telegraph as saying:
"Honestly, I can't see how anyone would make a ruling in this manner and think that it makes sense. You would think that suing the execs of the company that made the tissue box [which was thrown at the boy in the video by his bullies] would make more sense than Google's execs. Why not charge the execs of the company that made the camera that was used to film the incident? It's hard to hear about this ruling and not consider the Italian legal system to be a joke."
Well, if someone made a dangerous product, they can be prosecuted. But we don't normally hold companies responsible for misuse of their products.
On the other hand, we do hold companies responsible for what they publish or facilitate the publishing of if they are negligent.
Google runs a publishing platform. It doesn't send out individual videos in boxes that were used to hit someone. It has ongoing control over that platform in the way that the tissue-box and camera manufacturer do not.
To sum up
Google has form with not bothering with the consequence of what it allows people to find via its service - such as when anyone could uncover stories about 12-year-old "dad" Alfie Patten even though the UK media were (and still are I imagine) bound by an injunction.
It's not alone. Go on Facebook today, and you'll find all sorts of pages devoted to exacting revenge in the case of Baby P's parents - the problem here being that it was baby Peter's mother and boyfriend who were gulity. His other parent, the father, was completely innocent. These pages remain up. Should Facebook really not be accountable for what it allows to be published?
The issue here is not one of freedom of the Internet. And I am not suggesting that these services should pre-vet what users publish.
But Google should have had better systems in place, or should have adhered to its own process. One of these things didn't happen, and as a result senior executives have been held accountable. Let's leave the last word to the prosecutors:
"We are very satisfied because by means of this trial we have posed a serious problem: that is to say, the protection of human beings, which must prevail over corporate interests."
Let me know what you think in the comments ...
 It seems he had autism rather than Down's syndrome, in another triumph for journalism.