Google privacy trial delayed

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca.

The trial in Italy of four Google executives accused of defamation and violating privacy, previously scheduled to begin Tuesday, has been postponed until September because an interpreter was ill and unable to attend.

As a result, content providers around the world may have to spend another three months fretting over the implications of a successful prosecution.

The case centres around a video posted on YouTube showing an autistic youth being bullied, but the scope of the trial has implications for anyone who allows users to post or submit content online.

Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down Syndrome, first alerted prosecutors to the footage, which appeared on YouTube in 2006 before Google acquired the video-sharing website.

Google Italia took down the video, but prosecutors and the company disagree on how quickly the company reacted to complaints. The four bullies in the video were identified and sentenced to community service.

Four Google executives are named in the trial, and each could face up to three years in jail.

Prosecutors argue Google did not do enough to protect the child's privacy, should have had better content filters and needed to have more staff to monitor and take down objectionable content.

Google has countered the trial is a threat to internet freedom and would force it and other content providers into an impossible task of pre-screening thousands of hours of footage uploaded daily.

For Canadian observers of the new media hearings at the CRTC this spring, the case revisits a question often on the minds of regulators: how much control over content online can websites like YouTube have over its content without invading the privacy of its users.

During the hearings, expert after expert from internet service providers, content portals and software companies hammered home the same point: tracking this stuff is difficult in theory and darn-near impossible in practice. In the end, the CRTC seemed to buy the argument.

Not knowing Italian law, I can't say whether the court in Milan will come to the same conclusion. But you can bet the same arguments will once again be pushed to the forefront.