So at this point, everybody’s heard of Italy’s decision to convict three Google execs of violating privacy laws, because of an offensive video posted on YouTube by someone completely unrelated to Google. The video of a group of teenagers heckling an autistic boy was taken down – but not fast enough, apparently.
Absurdly, the court points to the sort of forced political censorship in China as ‘proof’ that it could do the same in Italy – “not to monitor political content ‘but to protect human dignity.'”
Now, never mind the technical challenges involved in indexing and categorizing audio and video – something that took the Music Genome Project, to cite but one example, a decade of research to perfect. At least they had some almost-objective criteria to work with: recommend pieces of music with some similar characteristics – rhythm, meter, instrumentation, lyrics, what have you – to those that a user already likes. To find a video “offensive” according to some arbitrary, imposed criteria would be nearly impossible without also filtering out so much art, music, and film which this magic, nonexistent algorithm also finds “offensive”. Only review by human brain will get this right – and that would take forever, since at least 20hrs of video is uploaded to YouTube…per minute.
But never mind all that. This ruling is yet another example of government attempting to impose control on the brave new world of decentralized media. This is done, in Europe, in the name of “privacy”. The linked-to article cites the existence of the Gestapo and Stasi as motives behind Europe’s strong privacy laws. The irony is too salient, since some entity – a government agency or multinational corporation – is being asked to monitor the content posted by other citizens, and censoring them. Implicitly, the private activities of the other citizens is being judged (what they choose to record). These citizens, it seems, have a right to create, but only a privilege to express. The bright red line between the public and private is dangerously dimmed when what is public for one can be deemed private for another by an institution related to neither party. Issues of fair use and copyright inevitably creep in as well: since fair use is something that can only be determined after the fact, certainly a stationary algorithm will inevitably fail to filter correctly, until someone perfects the Networked Flux Capacitor (which I’m assured by Christopher Lloyd is a work-in-progress).
Scarier laws are on the block in Italy, which would require blogs to post any edits and retractions within 48 hours – the same standard applied to newspapers – and would hold blogs liable for the content of anonymous commenters.
Now, perhaps I’m overreacting a bit in blaming European mores, and all of this Orwellian stuff is due to the machinations of the only guy in broadcasting slimier than Rupert Murdoch, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who somehow not only continues to hold monopoly control over the media in his country despite being the head of state but seeks to extend that control to our beloved Series Of Tubes ™.
But regardless, at this point I’d like to quote one of my intellectual heroes, a true godol and great American – none other than the anthropomorphic wonder himself, Donald Fauntleroy Duck:
Boy, am I glad to be a citizen of United States of America.
(and NO, I am not comparing the EU to the Third Reich…just Italy)