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on Tuesday, 19 June 2012
in Business News

Google Reports Worrying Rise in Governments Attempts to Censor the Web

Google

We regularly use Google Analytics to analyse websites, but were you aware that Google analyses itself continuously too? 

Well, it does.  And one of the things it analyses is requests from people and governments asking it to remove results from its search engines.

Google started a Transparency Report two years ago which shows the number and type of requests it receives from governments around the world asking it to remove information from the web.

The report also shows traffic patterns to Google and requests sent by copyright holders to have search results removed from the search engine.  These sections are updated in real time, but due to the manual process involved in the government requests, this section is only updated every six months.

Today  they have released the data showing requests from governments around the world from July to December 2011, asking Google to remove blog posts, videos or to hand over user information.  It makes for very disturbing reading.

Government Censorship on the Rise

As Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst, posted in her blog, "Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. 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.

"This is the fifth data set that we’ve released. And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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. 

"For example, in the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. We didn’t comply with either of these requests."

This is certainly a worrying development if Western governments are trying to suppress freedom of information, and one which, we're sure would cause uproar if more people were aware of it going on.

Get the Facts for Yourself

And this seems to be something that Google are hoping to address, as Dorothy Chou continued: "In addition to releasing new data today, we’re also adding a feature update which makes it easier to see in aggregate across countries how many removals we performed in response to court orders, as opposed to other types of requests from government agencies. For the six months of data we’re releasing today, we complied with an average of 65 percent of court orders, as opposed to 47 percent of more informal requests. 

"We’ve rounded up some additional interesting facts in the annotations section of the Transparency Report. We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the web at large. But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviours are shaping our web."

It certainly makes for interesting reading and if you are in any way concerned with keeping freedom of speech, we recommend you read the Transparency Report for yourself. 

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