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Governments now ask Google to remove more content than ever before

internet censorship

Wondering how many complaints from governments Google has to deal with on a daily basis? Well, if its latest transparency report is any indication, it’s quite a lot — and it just keeps increasing.

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The company revealed the latest batch of statistics designed to show its user how many take down requests it receives from governments around the globe. From June to December last year, the search giant says it received 2 285 government requests to remove 24 179 pieces of content from its services — and increase of more than 20% from the previous six month period. The main reason why governments want the content removed? Because they claim it’s defamatory.

Some 30% of the requests asked Google to remove defamatory content on everything from Blogger to YouTube to search results, while a smaller portion claimed the information posed a privacy or security risk or a contravention of electorial law. The majority of requests Google receives carry legal weight — 63% of the requests were court orders, while the remaining 37% came from police and executive members of governments. This reporting period also saw a number of countries — including Kenya, Egypt, Iran and the United Arab Emirates — submitting requests for the first time since Google started publishing these reports in 2010.

Some of the content removal requests Google received include:

  • A request to remove a (NSFW) music video which includes a CGI version of the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and which shows her in a “compromising position”. Google did not take down the video, but instead applied an age restriction.
  • Requests from 17 countries to remove the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video, which caused wide-spread protests last year. Google did not find that the video violated YouTube guidelines, but did restrict the ability to view the video in a few countries, including Eqypt and Libya, due to the “difficult circumstances” which developed in response.
  • More than 300 requests from Brazil to remove 756 pieces of content during the country’s national elections. Google complied with 35 final court decisions to take down the content, but is appealing a number of cases under the right of freedom of expression provided for in the Brazilian constitution. It also refused to remove blog posts and search results which accused judges, prosecutors, and attorneys of corruption. In all, the number of requests from Brazil increased by more than 200% since the first six months of 2012, making it the country that sent in the most requests overall.
  • More than a hundred requests from Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications to remove content that contravened the country’s legislation about the inclusion of suicide and drug-related content. The country’s censors have been trying to block or remove any web content which can be seen as harmful to children or promotes suicide. Google restricted a third of the content from view in Russia and removed about half of the content which violated its product policies.
  • Turkish officials sent in more than 140 requests to remove 426 YouTube videos, as well as Blogger blogs, a search result and a Google doc for allegedly criticising the former president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the government or national identity and values. It was also asked to remove blog posts for “discussing minority independence and disclosing details about the private lives of politicians.” Google restricted the ability to view the YouTube videos from Turkey in just over half of the cases, but did not remove the blogs or any other content. It notes that Blogger has been blocked in the country since March 2011 and the amount of requests received by Turkish officials has spiked more than a thousand percent since earlier last year.

In an official blog post, Google’s legal director Susan Infantino said the company hopes the report “helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online.”

“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. In more places than ever, we’ve been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services,” she said.

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