Google puts censorship on the map
The Internet giant steps up pressure on the U.S. and other countries that ask to have content removed from its sites
- By John S. Monroe
- Apr 22, 2010
China might be one of the more egregious examples of a government
that tries to clamp down on the Internet, but the U.S. government is
hardly a shrinking violet, at least according to Web behemoth Google.
Google, whose sites include its search engine, YouTube and Gmail,
released data last week on the number of requests it has received from
the United States and other governments to remove content from its
sites or provide information about specific users.
Brazil leads the way in both categories — because China no longer
counts — but the United States is near the top, according to the
company’s new Government Requests Web site, which is based on data collected between July and December 2009.
For example, U.S. government agencies asked the company to remove
content from its sites in 123 cases, which is far less than Brazil
(291), but roughly double the numbers for South Korea (64) and the
United Kingdom (59). The company complied, in part or in full, in 80.5
percent of the cases.
U.S. agencies also are not shy about sniffing around for information
on specific users. Brazil leads again with 3,663 such requests, but the
United States is close behind with 3,580.
Google cautions against interpreting the data strictly in terms of
censorship. For example, many requests come from law enforcement
officials looking to shut down child pornography sites or gather
information for legitimate criminal investigations.
However, Google execs also want the public to realize that Internet
censorship is on the rise. They hope this data, which will be updated
every six months, will keep a spotlight on the issue.
“Unless companies, governments and individuals do something, the
Internet we know is likely to become ever more restricted — taking
choice and control away from users and putting more power in the hands
of those who would limit access to information,” David Drummond, chief legal officer and senior vice president of corporate development at Google, wrote in the Washington Post last week.
Fans of the new Web site include officials at the American Civil
Liberties Union, who said they have been calling on Google and other
companies to take this step for years. They also hope the data will
spur Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to
better protect personal data.
“Americans for too long have been kept in the dark about how their private information is stored, used and shared,” said Laura Murphy, director of ACLU’s legislative office in Washington, D.C., in a statement
released last week. “It is our hope that this tool will help Americans
to better understand the relationship between private companies and our
But Google’s data leaves something to be desired, writes Cnet’s Tom Krazit.
“It said the numbers include requests from authorities that Google
contests, but the tool doesn't break out the data for the number of
times Google complied or refused requests for information on
individuals,” Krazit writes. “It does say how often — in general — it
complies with takedown requests but does not provide specifics.”
ChannelWeb’s Rob Wright
notes a curious connection between the Web site and the recent privacy
brouhaha surrounding the launch of the Google Buzz social networking
service. Coincidentally, privacy regulators from 10 countries got
together to send Google executives a letter last week expressing their
concerns about privacy holes in Google products.
“The letter, of course, is somewhat ironic since it was authored by
some of the same countries who have been pressuring Google for more
user data,” Wright points out.
Requests to remove content
United States: 123
South Korea: 64
United Kingdom: 59
Requests for data on users
United States: 3,580
United Kingdom: 1,166
John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.