Only recently Google got involved in a situation in China which led to interventions from none other the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when they protested violations, assumed to be authorised by the state and which are now being presented as the work of students at some colleges. Fresh from this difficulty Google has now run into what is, potentially, an even more serious problem but not, this time, in an explicitly authoritarian country but instead in a European "democracy".
As is reported in detail on Google's Blog an Italian court has ruled that Google is itself legally liable for the posting of a video that featured hateful bullying of an autistic child. It appears that the fact that the video in question was removed as soon as Google was notified of its existence is not even considered a mitigation of the supposed "offence" and nor is the fact that Google cooperated with the authorities in tracking down the person who originally filmed the video. The effective implication of this judgment is extremely serious since it would, if upheld, ensure that any ISP would be liable for anything posted on their servers, something which would lead to the ending of ISPs themselves since no one would wish to face such legal liability for the actions of others. It is true, as is asserted in a posting over at Crooked Timber that there is, sadly, nothing new in the eccentricities of Italian politics and that understanding there of standards otherwise widely accepted is often oddly out of kilter. But such a judgment cries out for the strongest condemnation and should not merely be over-turned but be the basis of a serious challenge to the competence of the judge who made it.