Google executives acquitted in Italy from defamation charges

Today the Court of Milan made public the decision in the criminal trial against four Google executives, charged of defamation and illegal personal data handling in relationship to the publication on the video sharing platform  of a video containing act of bullyism against a person affected by the Down Syndrome.

The legal basis for the charges, following the prosecutor’s theory of the case, was that those executives failed to exercise a pre-emptive control over the contents published by Google final users’, thus allowing the infringement of the reputation of the concerned person and of an NGO representing Down-Syndrome-affected persons.

The Court acquitted all the defendant from the charges of defamation, while found them liable of the illegal personal data handling charge. The whole sentence (including the legal technicalities that support the decision) will be public within the next 30 days.

This indictment is the last component of a long series of court decisions that kill Network Neutrality and turn ISPs and Telcos into Digital Vigilantes while, in the meantime, no actual protection is given to the victims of online crimes.

The Peppermint and The Pirate Bay cases, the legal argument against Youtube and the one between an entertainment-backed lobbying group by one side and Telecom Italia, the ISP’s association and the Data Protection Authority on the opposite and – finally – this indictment are all linked through the same connection: to erode the absence of the legal duty to preemptively contol internet users’ activity established by the UE directive on e-commerce.

What is bizarre, in this Google trial, is that for the very first time the existence of the ISP’s duty to perform a mass-control of user activities has been asserted thank to the data protection regulation. The same data protection regulation that forbade the disclosure of the identities of people allegedly accused by the entertainment industry of copyright infringement through P2P networks.

Is still to early to understand the Court mind (since the basis for the decision will be disclosed within the next 30 days. It is, nevertheless possible to try an educated guess based on the Court records. To put it short, here is a probable explanation for the decision:

1 – there is a rule of law into the Criminal Code that says: to not stop a fact equals to cause it,
2 – data protection law requires a prior authorization to be obtained before handling personal data,
3 – a video to be posted online is personal data,
4 – therefore Google executives had to check whether the user who posted the video got the preemptive authorisation from the people of the video, and
5 – by failing to do so, they infringed the data protection law
6 – furthermore, by not controlling in advance, they let the video to libel the victim of the violence (this charge has been dismissed.)

It is too early to assess the damages provoked by this decision, but it is not unreasonable to imagine that – should this court decision become “case law” – the telco market will suffer an alteration of the competion among the various players. The smallest one can’t handle the increasing risk (and cost) of being sued or investing in momentum-generating policies. Big international players might find Italy a lesser attractive place to do business in.

A kindLE of Magic (or, why Apple’s Ipad is a bluff)

Despite Apple’s claims, Ipad can’t be an Amazon Kindle competitor. Here is why.

Apple’s Ipad announcement raised the usual hype on general press and even gained the cover of The Economist. Steve Jobs said, during his Yerba Buena talk, that Jeff Bezos, at Amazon, did a great job with Kindle, but Apple is actually going a step ahead whit its Ipad. Well, of course Mr. Jobs needs to say that, but the statement might prove to be incorrect.

A question first: what is the Ipad? Answer: a keyboardless computer (but if you want, you may purchase a separate one.)

Sure, you can read ebooks (with some fancy visual trick), you can write your papers and run your presentations, and do your math with Numbers, and enjoy thounsand of Iphone application, and surf the Internet and do everything a normal computer does. So, back to the point, the Ipad is just a (not-so-powerful) general purpose computer.

And now comes Kindle.

Question: what is Kindle?

Answer: a book reading machine.

Kindle does just one thing (allowing people to read books) and does it damn good. The battery lasts for a long time, the download of the purchased book is fast and free almost everywhere in the world, eyes aren’t tired by reading through the screen, usability is at every opposite-thumbs equipped human being’s range, learning curve is measurable in terms of minutes.

I don’t actually know whether or not the Ipad will be a bluff, what is sure, is that Amazon Kindle works like a kind of magic.

Thank you Mr. Bezos.