Google sees ‘alarming’ level of government censorship
by Steven Musil
Web giant says that in the past six months it received more than 1,000 requests from government officials for the removal of content. It complied with more than half of them.
Google reports it has seen an “alarming” incidence in government requests to censor Internet content in the past six months.
The Web giant said it received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the world to remove items such as YouTube videos and search listings. The company, which said it complied with more than half the requests, released a catalog of those requests as part of its biannual Global Transparency Report.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, Google’s senior policy analyst, said in a blog post. “When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”
Google said it had received 461 court orders for the removal of 6,989 items, consenting to 68 percent of those orders. It also received 546 informal requests, complying with 46 percent of those requests. The study doesn’t reflect censorship activity from countries such as China and Iran, which block content without notifying Google.
“Just like every other time, we’ve been asked to take down political speech,” Chou wrote. “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.”
Among the take-down requests was a Polish demand for removal of an article critical of a development agency, a Spanish request for removal of 270 blogs and links to articles critical of the public figures, and a Canadian official’s request for removal of a YouTube video of a man urinating on his passport and flushing it down a toilet. All were denied.
However, the company said it complied with the majority of requests from Thai authorities for the removal of 149 YouTube videos that allegedly insulted the monarchy, a violation of Thailand law. The Web giant said it also granted U.K. police requests for removal of five YouTube accounts that allegedly promoted terrorism. Google also said it complied with 42 percent of U.S. requests for the removal of 187 pieces of content, most of which were related to harassment.