Italo ruling opens backlash against Web giant

Will Italy pave the way for a global censorship backlash against Google and, by extension, Internet freedom around the planet?

That’s one alarming concern prompted by the recent Italian court decision to hold three Google execs criminally accountable for a vid posted in 2006 on Google Video showing a group of teenagers bullying a boy with Down Syndrome.

But the other issue underscored by the Italo ruling, and by a subsequent preliminary antitrust probe launched by EU regulators, is the gap between the Web’s global reach and the fact that we live in a world of single sovereign states.

And that gap, which is cultural before being legal, is fueling an anti-Google backlash in Europe, where the digital Mountain View, Calif., behemoth is increasingly being seen as an eerie multi-tentacled capitalist invader, in sharp contrast with the global freedom-loving good guy image Google likes to project.

“Who would deny that everyone’s daily life has been changed by the advent of this extraordinary search engine?” conceded French political website Rue89. But at the same time, unrestrained capitalism “is no paradise and the downsides are domination … and abuse of power,” it went on to denounce.

In Italy, judge Alfredo Robledo gave the three Google execs a suspended six-month sentence for violating Italian privacy laws, and said that “to claim that this (ruling) is

about censorship … is false.

“This is about finding a balance between free enterprise and the protection of human dignity,” the Italo magistrate opined.

And while Google will likely succeed in overturning the decision on appeal thanks to an EU directive that shields service providers from liability for the content they host, the escalating Europe vs. Google frictions aren’t likely to subside soon.

The EU is now probing complaints by British shopping site Foundem, Italian-German shopping guide Ciao and French search engine eJustice, who claim their sites were “de-referenced” and pushed into cyber-limbo by Google’s search algorithms after resisting Google ad reps. Google claims it has done nothing wrong.

And in another blow, on March 1, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding also ordered Google to delete images captured in Europe for its Street View service after six months, for privacy reasons. Google has responded that it may not try to map Europe again if the EU doesn’t come around and see Street View the Mountain View way.

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