Google Details Censorship and Takedown Requests

Google‘s recent decision to stop complying with Chinese censorship requirements and relocate its search service to Hong Kong has raised a host of questions about how Google deals with government requests (and demands) that content be removed from Google and its services like YouTube, as well as how often Google is required to hand over information about its users to government and law enforcement in other countries. Although Google has previously outlined its stance on removing content and handing over data about its users, but now the company is offering a little more data, including an interactive map of government requests directed to Google and YouTube between July and December 2009. And at the top of the lists for requests for content-take downs and user information? Not China, not Myanmar, not Khazakstan or another repressive regime. Instead, it’s Brazil.

Part of the reason that Brazil tops the list is that the data offered by Google is necessarily incomplete. For instance, it only covers requests in criminal matters, no information at all is listed for China or Russia, and no African countries are represented at all. Similarly, the numbers can be skewed by the nature of the requests: sometimes a single request wants Google to remove multiple pieces of content, or seeks information about more than one Google account; similarly, multiple request may demand the removal of the same piece of content. Google also isn’t saying much about whether it actually complied with a request or challenged it, although the company is offering percentages about its compliance with requests to remove content, along with some breakdown of where that content lived—for instance, YouTube, Blogger, or Google’s social networking service Orkut.

“Google products—from search and Blogger to YouTube and Google Docs—have been blocked in 25 of the 100 countries where we offer our services,” Google’s VP of global communications and public affairs Rachel Whetstone wrote in the company blog. “Where possible, we are transparent with our users about what content we have been required to block or remove so they understand that they may not be getting the full picture.”

In terms of data removal request, the top countries were Brazil, Germany, India, the United States, and South Korea; the top five countries requesting user data from Google were Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and France.

Google admits it’s new to presenting this sort of information, and plans to refine the types of information about take-down requests and demands for user information.

Whetstone re-iterated Google’s stance towards open exchange of information remains unchanged: “We have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression. We are driven by a belief that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.”

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