An Italian judge has given the go-ahead to a case that could hold Google responsible for content provided by users of the company's online video hosting service.
Four Google privacy executives have been charged with defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data.
The charges follow a two-year investigation by Italian authorities into a three-minute video posted to Google's Italian website in which four teenagers make fun of a boy with Down's syndrome.
Google removed the video within 24 hours of receiving complaints, but Milan public prosecutor Francesco Cajani decided that Google had broken the law by allowing the video onto its site.
Judge Oscar Magi yesterday accepted a Down's syndrome association and the Milan city council as the plaintiffs after the withdrawal of the boy at the centre of the row.
The boy's lawyer said he had withdrawn because it was not in his best interests to proceed and because Google had expressed its regret over what happened, according to IT World.
The trial, set to continue on 17 March, could set a precedent for providers of services that allow users to post content online.
The case will examine whether sites such as Google should be held responsible for third-party content and whether they should be subject to laws of outside countries.
Google is being prosecuted as an internet content provider and, unlike service providers, Italian law states that content providers are responsible for third-party content.
The same law regulates Italian newspaper and television publishers, but Google says the internet is more like a tool than a publication and the company cannot be blamed for how it is used.
The trial, which is expected to last for months, is believed to be the first involving criminal charges against privacy professionals for their company's actions.
Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, chief legal officer David Drummond, former CFO George Reyes, and a former London-based Google Video executive face up to 36 months in prison and fines of up to $320,000 (£222,418) if found guilty.
Christine and Aaron Boring sued Google after photos of their home appeared on the free mapping program, but Judge Amy Reynolds Hay of the US District Court for Western Pennsylvania said case was without merit.
She said while it is possible to imagine that many whose property appears on Google's virtual maps resent the privacy implications, it is hard to believe that anyone would suffer shame or humiliation, as claimed by the Borings.