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How responsible is an online service provider supposed to be about offensive videos that are posted by third parties? A Google lawsuit in Italy regarding video of an autistic teen getting beaten up has gotten a lot of attention because of cyberbullies. As a result, the New York Times recently reported that Google has had to defend the actions of four of its executives for failing to comply with privacy laws.
The Google lawsuit centers around an allegation that Google was negligent because a video posted by cyberbullies remained in Google's Italian language video service for two months back in 2006. The video featured students bullying an autistic classmate. Google defense attorneys defend Google's executives by stating when the video was brought to its attention, it was removed from its website. The charges against the executives are criminal charges.
This Google lawsuit highlights an important question:
What is the legal responsibility of an online service provider?
There are typically rules that exempt online service providers from legal responsibility if the content is posted by third party users (typically known as safe harbor from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act), but this does not mean that online service providers are free to post infringing material, criminal materal (such as child pornography) or even material that would violate privacy laws. Please keep in mind that the laws that govern online service providers hinges on where their service is provided (domestic versus international law).
What About Cyberbullying?
According to stopcyberbullying.org, "Cyberbullying" is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor.
In this particular case, the autistic teen in Italy was being abused by his classmates. He was identified in the video and his privacy rights were violated according to Italian law. However, does that mean Google is responsible?
TechDirt quotes Google's attorney as saying: "The outcome of this will be to determine how big companies like Google should be expected to act."
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