Google wants to “go even further” with transparency

Google has today released its transparency report for the first half of 2013. There are some interesting figures on government requests for user data in the report. The US leads the way, with 10,918 requests for information about 21,683 accounts, including almost 7,500 requests by subpoena, and interestly, seven for wiretaps (all of which resulted in some data being handed over).

This though, is not the whole story. In a curt blog post (acoompanied by a striking, censored chart), Google’s Richard Salgado pointed out that the company is restricted in what information it can share on some US national security requests, writing:

We want to go even further. We believe it’s your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

google transparency
Other countries in the top tier include Germany, France and the UK leading the way in requests in Europe, and emerging powers Brazil and India making up the top six. The UK saw 1,274 data requests from 1,818 accounts. Brazil had a similar number, with 1,239 requests.

Overall, requests from European governments made up over a third of the worldwide total.

Google has reacted strongly to concerns over NSA and GCHQ surveillance. At a recent meeting in London, the company’s European head of external relations Peter Barron insisted that there was no back door for snooping into Google’s data, and that the company was disgusted by the idea of authorities tapping their cables.


Google Transparency Report shows Brazil tops takedown table

Governments around the world are ramping up their takedown requests, the latest data from Google’s Transparency Report revealed yesterday. 56 countries issued a record 2,285 requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content from the company’s products and platforms in the second half of 2012. This update comes three months after Google reported record high government requests for user data in the same period.

Brazil topped the list of offenders. The country’s courts and government agencies issued 697 content removal requests, more than double the number issued by the second-placed United States. Half of Brazil’s requests were to remove content that allegedly defamed or offended political candidates. Google removed content in some of these cases but is appealing others on the grounds that Brazil’s constitution protects free speech.

The countries in which courts requested the most individual items be removed were Turkey (8,751 items), the US (3,624) and Brazil (1,654). Requests from Turkey cited content that infringed copyrights or allegedly violated local laws that prohibit criticising the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. US requests mainly cited defamation and trademark infringements.

According to Google’s newly compiled data, the most common reasons countries cite for removal requests since 2010 have been privacy and security, defamation, copyright, religious offence, electoral law, government criticism and adult content.

India’s government agencies issued 2,529 non-court takedown requests, far more than any other country. Most of these were issued in line with local laws on public order and ethnic offence amidst political unrest in India’s northeastern states.

Russia issued only six requests for Google to remove content in the first half of 2012. That number jumped to 114 in the second half of the year, 107 of which directly cited Russia’s new internet blacklist law. The law, which went into effect in late October, requires ISPs to block websites that contain “harmful” information including child pornography, “extremist materials” and information on suicide or drug use.

Countries with the worst digital freedom records like China and Iran requested few or no takedowns. Google services are limited or blocked and the internet already heavily restricted in these countries, meaning other measures are often taken to block access to online content.

In a troubling sign of internationally overlapping censorship, 20 countries requested that Google address the “Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube, which the company owns. Australia, Egypt and the US merely asked Google to review the video’s compliance with its own community guidelines, but the rest requested it be locally blocked. Google complied with eight of these requests in accordance with local laws. It also preemptively blocked access to the video in Libya and Egypt “due to difficult circumstances”.

While government requests for content removal might be on the rise, Google’s compliance with these requests has fallen consistently from 76 percent in 2010 to 45 percent today.

Google’s transparency report has been a useful benchmark for the global state of online free expression since it first launched in 2010. Yesterday’s update comes one month after Microsoft issued its first report of this kind. Dropbox, LinkedIn and Twitter all share similar statistics.