Google on late Sunday released a sampling of its own data on the number of requests it receives from governments around the world to remove specific content and other speech from its various websites, including YouTube.
Surprisingly, democracies led the way in the overall number of content takedown requests shared by Google, with requests for upwards of 6,000 items to be removed coming from U.S. court orders and government and law enforcement agencies.
“This is the fifth data set that we’ve released,” wrote Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, in a company blog post. “And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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.”
Google’s fifth “Transparency Report,” which covers the government-issued takedown requests that Google received between the six months between July and December 2011, shows that besides the requests for 6,192 items to be removed that came from the United States, Google also received requests for 1,722 items to be removed by the government agencies of Germany, 847 by the United Kingdom, 646 by Australia, 554 by Brazil, 307 by Spain, 255 by India (the world’s largest democracy), 174 by Turkey, 162 by Canada, compared to 15 by Pakistan and 10 by Poland, and less than 10 by Jordan, Bolivia and Ukraine.
The reasons for the content takedown notices ranged from everything from requests by a local law enforcement agency in the U.S. to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for “alleged harassment,” which Google says it did not comply with, to requests by UK police to remove five whole accounts for “allegedly promot[ing] terrorism,” to which Google said it did comply. Overall, Google said that it complied with taking down content for an “average of 65% of court orders, as opposed to 47% of more informal requests.”
Even more importantly for average Web users, Google lists the number of requests for their user data made by government and law enforcement bodies. Again, the U.S. led the way with 6,231 separate user data sets requested, India came in second with 2,207 user data sets requested, and 1,615 from Brazil. To be clear, these requests were merely to give government and law enforcement agencies access to user accounts and data, not to remove said data from the Web. And unlike in the case of content takedown requests, Google appears to be more willingly to comply with requests for user data, “fully” or “partially” complying with 93 percent of the requests it received for user data from the U.S., 90 percent in Brazil and 66 percent in the case of India.
Check out the following map of Google’s compliance with user data requests around the world:
“We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the Web at large,” added Google’s Chou. “But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviors are shaping our Web.”
Chart by Clayton Ashley