Google Transparency Report reveals 'alarming' rise in government censorship requests


Google, along with 400 Internet companies, have agreed to implement a "Do-not-track" button web browsers, which will give people more control about how their personal data is tracked online and used by businesses.


Jeff J Mitchell

Governments are increasingly asking Google to censor internet content for political reasons, according to the search engine's latest Transparency Report.

Google's records state that it received around 1,000 removal requests from at least 45 different countries between July and December 2011.

According to its notes, many of the requests came down to politics – for instance, when blogs or YouTube videos criticized government officials or agencies.

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"It's alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect – Western democracies not typically associated with censorship," wrote senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou on Google's official blog.

Some of the examples that Google gave include:

  • Spain requested the removal of 270 links to blogs and newspaper articles about individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors.
  • Poland's Enterprise Development Agency wanted a search result that criticized it, plus eight links to the page, taken down.
  • Canada's passport office asked for the removal of a YouTube video showing a man urinating on his Canadian passport and flushing it down the toilet.
  • Brazil's electoral court ordered the removal of four social network profiles featuring political content. 
  • A German government agency obtained a court order for the removal of 898 search results linking to pages containing statements about the agency and one of its employees that were deemed not credible.
  • Pakistan's Ministry of Information technology wanted deleted six YouTube videos that satirized the Pakistan Army and senior politicians.

Some of the requests Google said it complied with: for instance the German and Brazilian court orders, and another case in which UK police wanted five YouTube accounts removed and hundreds of videos deleted for allegedly promoting terrorism.

Other requests were denied – including the examples from Spain, Poland, Canada and Pakistan. In total, Chou said Google had complied with an average of 65 percent of court orders, as opposed to 47 percent of "more informal requests."

According to the Guardian, the main reason that Google removes search results is not politics, but copyright infringement. The company said last month that it had received more than 3 million requests for removals on copyright grounds last year, 97 percent of which it complied with.

Google's Transparency Report does not include data on countries such as China where the government censors online content directly, Agence France Presse noted.

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