Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Don't put Peter Fleischer on Ice

Peter Fleischer is Google’s chief privacy counsel. I met Peter once at a IAPP event, and spoke pretty briefly. We have a lot of friends and colleagues in common.

He’s now threatened with three years of jail in Italy. Google took under 24 hours to remove a video which invaded the privacy of someone with Down Syndrome. See law firm Proskauer Rose’s “Google Execs Face Privacy Related and Other Criminal Charges for Taunting Video” for or Dan Solove’s “Criminalizing Google’s YouTube in Italy” for background.

A small part of me is happy to see enforcement of privacy laws. This is clearly a sit up and take notice moment for many executives around privacy, and that might be for the good.

I think much more, it’s to the detriment of much of what’s good about the internet, and not even good for privacy. On the scale of privacy invasions, this one isn’t like publishing someone’s medical records, their financial records, or their diary. It’s three minutes of bullying. I’m not trying to universalize my values, but it’s hard to understand 191 seconds of bullying as justifying three years in jail. The executive ‘takeaway’ from this is likely to be “we need to get those laws fixed.”

Google claims that 200,000 videos are uploaded to Google Video daily. There’s all sorts of good–people are enthralled, and choose to spend a tremendous amount of time watching that crap. No, really, 99% of it’s crap, but 1% is great, and we all differ on which video is which. It’s chaotic. The value of Google Video emerges from hundreds of thousands of people providing video, and Google making it available to others.

If Peter Fleischer goes to jail, that will stop. Not just at Google, but at other companies (not speaking for my employer–I have no knowledge of plans.) No executive will say this is worth jail time. The chilling effect would be massive, and also ineffective.

Video on the internet will move to a peer to peer system, just like music has. The ability to remove content will fall away, as will searchability. What’s more, we won’t gain much in privacy (except, perhaps, with regards to how much Google can observe). New business will be hesitant to step into these areas, and we’ll give up all the good which might emerge.

Ironically, Google’s aggressive tracking (with 3 domains worth of cookies and 2 Flash LSOs) offer up a perfect “more speech” opportunity. There are logs of who viewed the original video. It would be easy (if an apology video existed) to show it to each person who viewed the original video, and to measure what fraction had seen it.

None of this is aided by a threat of jail time for Peter Fleischer.

3 comments on "Don't put Peter Fleischer on Ice"

  • beri says:

    First thing we’ll do, let’s shoot all the lawyers.

  • You speak of the threat, not the sentencing, correct? What’s the likelihood he would get a max penalty instead of just a fee?
    I also noticed Google argues “It’s akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post”. this is patently false. Mail service employees do not see the content of the messages and therefore could not possibly come to a decision on whether to deliver them.
    The very reason Google is being prosecuted as a content provider instead of an ISP is because they are displaying the content, rather than just delivering it. Their analogy with mail shows that they don’t understand this rather obvious distinction, which seems very strange. Instead perhaps they could argue things like the rate/volume of upload means that within 24 hours is a very reasonable response time.

  • a true conservative says:

    Let’s shoot all the state employed prosecutors first. If we need to help the poor, let charities hire thief catchers. Few would bother to pay for this persecution.

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