“Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case,” was the title of the AP news story. Briefly, some thugs beat, punished and humiliated an autistic person. And then were foolish enough to video tape the attack and post it online. The old adage holds true. You give a fool enough rope he’ll hang himself and invite the world to see.
Corporate officers of Google were then held responsible for not removing the video fast enough. The irony of this case is that the video tape was used to convict these criminals, yet Google was also convicted for showing it. And without the tape the criminals would never have been caught.
We get more evidence each day that the web has become a virtual paradise for the advancement of business, government and community as well as for the expression of criminal intent. In the midst a question arises. What type of security should be provided for online, public platforms that meet community as well as individual privacy needs? And who is responsible for this security?
In many, if not most organizations, employees sign an Internet usage policy that acknowledges the company’s right to monitor computer usage. Both incoming and outgoing communications can be monitored. In the public domain, you have to assent to the terms of service (TOS) for using online services (e.g., Facebook, YouTube) and agree you will be a good citizen. If another citizen reports bad behavior your use of the service could be terminated.
Herein lies the issue. In corporations, the liability for bad employee behavior can be assigned to the organization since the employee is a representative. But in public domains, there are no employees, just users. Some with good intentions and others born of a criminal mind. Is assent to TOS enough to remove liability from a corporation that provides a public service?
To explore this further I went to the folks at EFF to see what they had to say about this. This is the description of EFF: “From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense.”
A little soupy but it works.
The body of content by EFF suggests they believe there has to be a balance between individual rights (free expression, privacy), corporate rights (innovation, profit) and the good of society (trade, communications, decency).
If more liability is assigned to a public service provider, then less individual privacy is the consequence. The entity will be forced to monitor individual usage of service to reduce its risks. Or will limit or even withdraw the service because of the cost of liability.
We can’t have our cake and eat it too.