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Google Publicizes Government Censorship Requests

David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Google just released an application called the Government Requests tool. This app shows how many requests each nation’s government has made for users’ personal information or for the removal of URLs from Google’s search index.

This data is hown on Google map of the world and shows "the number of government requests received to remove content, and the percentage of those requests complied with" on a country-by-country basis. "At a time when increasing numbers of governments are trying to regulate the free flow of information on the Internet, we hope this tool will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests to censor information or obtain user data around the globe," Google officials noted.

While the Australian government has requested data from Google 155 times in the last 6 months, the tool show no data on New Zealand (which explained below actually mean less than 30 requests).  In terms of requests to remove data, New Zealand is under 10 requests.

Brazil, India, and Germany top the list for removal requests, with the majority of the Brazilian and Indian stemming from Google's Orkut social networking product and typically related to "alleged impersonation or defamation." In Germany Google complies with "a federal government youth protection agency" with approximately 11% of the German removal requests related to "pro-Nazi content or content advocating denial of the Holocaust," both of which are illegal under German law.

While privacy and free speech advocates are praising Google, this transparency is not perfect - but Google has acknowledged where there are limitations stating that  "We know these numbers are imperfect and may not provide a complete picture of these government requests." Regarding China, for example, where Google is involved in a dispute over its service, there is a question mark on the map, because "Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets" and thus Google cannot disclose this data without further irritating the Chinese government.  Also, where the numbers of requests are relatively low from a particular country, "revealing the statistics could place important investigations at risk and interfere with public safety efforts of the authorities."

While the data is imperfect, this is a welcome addition to the public knowledge of the role that governments play in using Internet technology to both use and block information.


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