Italy vs. Google

Above: The night we stayed in Bologna on our recent trip to Italy, my friends (some of whom I’ve known for more than 20 years), shared this Youtube video of Italian politician Francesco Rutelli butchering the English language. The video has been the subject of much ridicule and parody in Italy, a country with a rich history of biting satire that stretches back to the Renaissance and beyond. My friends said it was an example of their culturally and morally bankrupt government.

Between our re-entry into civilian life, our move into our new home, a ride-with with a rockstar winemaker in northern and eastern Texas, and the mountain of thank you cards that Tracie P and I have just begun to chip away at, an interesting news story slipped through my cracks this week: according to a story published on Wednesday by The New York Times, an Italian court convicted three Google executives for “violating Italian privacy laws.” (For more detailed background on the case, see also this Reuters post.) Many see the ruling as part of the Berlusconi government’s attempt to curb freedom on the internet and part of an over-arching plan to maintain control of public opinion through the cultural hegemony of television (as head of state and thus chief executive of public television and owner of the major privately-owned television channels, Berlusconi has a virtual monopoly on what is televised in Italy).

Above: To appreciate this parody of the Rutelli clip, you need hear the “interpreter’s” markedly Roman accent. The short film is indicative of Italians’s embrace of the internet as a viral medium for satire. And again, I can’t underline enough the centrality of satire in Italian culture. Just think of the pasquinades of 16th-century Rome — same idea, different medium.

If you’ve visited Italy in recent years, you know that connecting to the internet can be a daunting challenge there. At least one restaurateur explained I spoke to in 2008 said that this is because the Italian government holds the internet providers responsible for what their users and customers post on the internet. It’s simply not worth the hassle for restaurateurs, for example, to provide internet access to their customers (and this guy was an entirely hip and successful winemaker in German-speaking Italy, who has a sleek, contemporary restaurant in the Alps). When you can get online in Italy, some businesses (like hotels) ask you to sign a written document stating that you are fully liable for what you publish on the internet.

Above: A quick search on YouTube quickly rendered an example of the type of virally circulated clip that might bother Berlusconi.

Does any of this have any bearing on the world of wine? Yes, in my opinion, it does. Now, more than ever, Italian wineries need to use the internet as a medium for viral marketing of their products to English-speaking consumers. This is especially true right now when the enosphere is shifting radically to the internet as its preferred medium of communication.

Okay, time to get down off my soap box… If you made it this far into the post, thanks for reading!

Buona domenica a tutti…

8 thoughts on “Italy vs. Google

  1. The myopia this issue presents is intriguing to say that least… I am trying to figure out why the Italian government would take such a stance on its internet usage policies? Is this a consistent trend in more areas of the world that not? The obvious perpetrators are of course places like China and Iran whose iron grip upon any shared information is stymying to say that least to the citizens of their respective countries, but I had not known or considered what I would have viewed as a more liberal Europe doing something such as imposing laws that in the end amount to nothing more than a legislative collar. (yes, that was a run-on sentence—) I wonder where we would advance as a global community if politicians would ever be so kind as to get out of the way at times. Thank you for the thoughtful post—while not a wine connoisseur such as yourself, I find the writing always exhilarating and informative.

  2. Let me clarify two things for people not well informed about Italian matters.
    -Mr. Rutelly does not belong to the Berlusconi party, but he was a minister of the former left government
    -The sentence about Google come out from a judges court. Judges in Italy are far to be controlled in any way by the government, being often accused by Mr. Berlusconi to prosecute him. The laws they are presently applying are those asked by the former American president Mr. Bush to fight international terrorism after 11th September.
    My two cent

  3. @Nicole thanks for the comment and for the kind words… it’s amazing when you think of how much connectivity there is in France and Germany and how far behind Italy is at this point… I do see the wisdom of the Italian approach to privacy on the internet but I also fear that Italian wineries are lagging behind in terms of marketing their products to the internet-savvy audience… always great to see you at Do Bianchi!

    @Luca the magistrates and judges may not be controlled by the Berlusconi government but the prosecutors who bring the charges answer indeed to the government… Rutelli, of course, is center left, and not center right, but I just wanted to give the example of the clip as a topical, current example of what people my age (and your age, for that matter!) are talking about in Italy… honestly, I don’t think there is some master plan to curb freedom on the internet in Italy but I do think Italian attitudes about the internet in general have caused Italy to lag behind the rest of the western world in terms of using the internet to market its products — abroad and at home. Thanks for the comment… always great to see you here! :-)

  4. Random fact, Rutelli’s father (grandfather?) created the beautiful sculpture in Pz. delle Repubblica.

    That second clip was priceless.

    Silvo B. is not happy with the judges right now and they are sick of him claiming they are “out to get him.”

    Not sure why our PM thinks he’s above the law.

    The Google case is very interesting. How much responsibility falls on Google for its YouTube videos that violate someone’s privacy? I assume Google is appealing.

  5. Luca –

    You say “No, in Italy prosecutors are a independent authority and definitely don’t answer to the government.”

    In theory yes, but in reality…really?

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