Google: More Governments Asking for Removal of User Content

Government requests to censor content that's been posted on Google sites continue to increase, according to Google's latest transparency report.

Google's latest transparency report on government censorship requests coming in from around the world related to content on Google Websites shows the rate rising by 26.2 percent by the end of 2012.

"From July to December 2012, we received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content—an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that we received during the first half of 2012," wrote Susan Infantino, Google's legal director, in an April 25 post on the Google Public Policy Blog. That's a 26.2 percent increase from the first half of the year to the last half, which continues a rising trend that Google has seen since it began its transparency reports back in 2010.

"As we've gathered and released more data over time, it's become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown," wrote Infantino. "In more places than ever, we've been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates."

Among those cases was a request from Argentina to remove a YouTube video that allegedly defames the country's president by depicting her in a compromising position, while in Denmark, Google received a request from local law enforcement to remove two YouTube videos that criticized a foreign ambassador. In the Argentina case, Google "age-restricted the video in accordance with YouTube's Community Guidelines," while in the Denmark case "a legal basis for removal was not provided" and Google allowed the videos to remain.

In another case, Google complied with a court order from Greece and removed a blog post from the domain that "allegedly defamed a retired military officer accused of business gain through political ties, including ties to a former prime minister of Greece."

In the United States, Google "removed 771 items from Google Groups relating to a case of continuous defamation against a man and his family" after receiving three court orders, according to the report.

Infantino noted that the latest transparency report included a sharp increase in requests from Brazil, where the number of content-removal requests soared 265 percent, from 191 in the first half of 2012 to 697 by the second half of the year.

"The big reason for the spike was the municipal elections, which took place last fall. Nearly half of the total requests—316 to be exact—called for the removal of 756 pieces of content related to alleged violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates. We're appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution."

Google also saw a huge increase in content removal requests from Russia, where a new law that permits the government there to blacklist and remove Websites without a trial went into effect late last year, wrote Infantino. "In the first half of 2012, we received six requests, the most we had ever received in any given six-month period from Russia," but the number rose to 114 requests in the second half of the year, an increase of 1,800 percent, due in large part to the new law, she wrote.

Google has been compiling and releasing the reports since 2010 to keep the process transparent for users of its services so they can have insights into what is done with the data stored by Google.

One change Google has made in its latest transparency report is that the company is now breaking down government requests about YouTube videos to clarify whether they are removed in response to government requests for violating Community Guidelines, or whether they are being restricted from view due to local laws, according to Infantino.

"The information we share on the transparency report is just a sliver of what happens on the Internet," she wrote. "But as we disclose more data and continue to expand it over time, we hope it helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online."