Google sees 'alarming' level of government censorship

Google revealed that, in the past six months, it received more than 1000 requests from government officials for the removal of content. It has complied with more than half of them.

(Credit: Google; censored rubber stamp image by Piotr VaGla Waglowski, public domain)


Google reported that it has seen an "alarming" increase in government requests to censor internet content in the past six months.

The web giant said that it received more than 1000 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 catalogue of those requests as part of its biannual Global Transparency Report.

"Unfortunately, what we've seen over the past couple of 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 that it had received 461 court orders for the removal of 6989 items, and consented to 68 per cent of those orders. It had also received 546 informal requests, and complied with 46 per cent 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 the removal of an article that was critical of a development agency; a Spanish request for the removal of 270 blogs and links to articles critical of public figures; and a Canadian official's request for the removal of a YouTube video of a man urinating on his passport and flushing it down a toilet. All were denied.

However, the company has said that 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 UK police requests for the removal of five YouTube accounts that allegedly promoted terrorism. Google also said that it complied with 42 per cent of US requests for the removal of 187 pieces of content, most of which were related to harassment.


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