Google: government requests for web content removal rises

13 Nov 2012
web blocking

Transparency report reveals 98% jump in UK requests to block online content

Google has revealed that government requests to remove online data have jumped, as requests for user data continue to grow.

Every six months, the web giant releases a Transparency Report, revealing how many requests for data and content removals are requested by each government.

When the project started in 2009, governments made 12,539 requests for user data; for the first half of this year, they asked for 20,938. In the UK specifically, government agencies made 1,425 requests for user data against 1,732 accounts - and Google honoured two-thirds of those requests.

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 14 search results for linking to sites that criticise the police and claim individuals were involved in obscuring crimes

While that number of data requests has steadily grown over the years, Google noted that requests to entirely remove content had been largely flat, but jumped this time around.

"The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011," said Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst, in a post on the Google blog. "But it’s spiked in this reporting period. In the first half of 2012, there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content."

The jump was especially notable in the UK, which posted a 98% increase in content removal requests, up to 79 from government and police and 18 via courts - although it didn't honour all of them, with a compliance rate of 61%.

"We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 14 search results for linking to sites that criticise the police and claim individuals were involved in obscuring crimes," the company noted. "We did not remove content in response to this request. In addition, we received a request from another local law enforcement agency to remove a YouTube video for criticising the agency of racism. We did not remove content in response to this request."

The bulk of the content asked to be removed were Google AdWords, as part of anti-scam efforts, followed by defamation, national security, privacy/security, and copyright.

Google pointed out that its data is limited. "The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the internet, since for the most part we don’t know what requests are made of other technology or telecommunications companies," said Chou. "But we’re heartened that in the past year, more companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, Sonic.net and Twitter have begun to share their statistics too. Our hope is that over time, more data will bolster public debate about how we can best keep the internet free and open."

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