Defamation Claims Behind Most Content Removal Requests to Google

The latest Google Transparency Report shows that the number of government content removal requests ticked down modestly compared with the previous tracking period.

Google TransparentB

Governments around the world appear to be using defamation claims as a reason to try to persuade Google to remove political content from its Blogger, Search and YouTube services.

The company's new Transparency Report released Monday shows that the U.S. government and law enforcement made a total of 481 content removal requests, involving 3,667 items, between June and December 2013. Of that total, 328 requests, or 68 percent, cited defamation as the reason for the request.

The report shows that Google complied with 50 percent of court-ordered removal requests and 89 percent of government and law enforcement requests.

Worldwide, nearly four out of 10 removal requests were related to defamation as well, a reason that governments often cite when they want Google to get rid of political content, the company noted. "In attempts to remove political speech from our services, officials cite defamation, privacy, and even copyright laws," Google said in its report.

The Transparency Report, which Google releases on a half-yearly basis, summarizes the requests the company receives from governments and law enforcement each year asking it to remove content or links to content on its sites. This week's report is the ninth one the company has released so far as part of an effort to shed more light on government and law enforcement efforts to remove content they find objectionable.

"Our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online," Google Legal Director Trevor Callaghan said in a blog post. "However, it does provide a lens on the things that governments and courts ask us to remove, underscoring the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests."

The latest report shows that Google's Blogger, Search and YouTube services were the biggest targets of content takedown requests by government and law enforcement in the second half of 2013. Governments around the world submitted some 3,105 requests to Google asking it to remove a total of 14,637 pieces of content between June 2013 and December 2013.

About 1,065 of those requests targeted content published on Blogger, 841 pertained to search engine results and 765 requests were related to content posted on YouTube. The reasons for the removal requests varied widely and included requests that alleged discrimination, violation of local laws such as those involving adult content, child exploitation and hate speech.

The overall number of government requests that Google received between June and December of last year was lower than the number it received during the preceding half. Even so, the latest Transparency Report shows that government content removal requests to Google have steadily increased, and in fact have more than tripled from 952 in 2010 to 3,105 in the second half of 2013.

In addition to content removal requests, Google also publishes details on requests for user data made by U.S. law enforcement in connection with criminal investigations. Between January and June 2014, the company received a total of 12,539 requests pertaining to 21,576 user accounts. About 8,200 of those requests were obtained via subpoena, while some 3,100 were obtained via search warrants.

Following Edward Snowden's leaks on the National Security Agency's (NSA's) surveillance practices, Google, Microsoft and other technology companies have been pressing the government for permission to release data on user information they have been forced to disclose under the aegis of anti-terror laws and National Security Letters.

The laws currently allow Internet companies to only describe such requests in very broad terms and prohibit them from releasing any numbers except in ranges of 1,000.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.