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Google Transparency Report Says Censorship Way Up

Google Transparency Report Says Censorship Way Up
December 21, 2013 10:07AM

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Search giant Google has issued its latest transparency report, tabulating government requests to remove content from its services. The latest numbers show a whopping 68 percent increase. Google says that, while the Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online, it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend.

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Google this week launched its latest transparency report, perhaps peaking more interest than usual in the age of National Security Agency snooping. The search engine giant first launched the Transparency Report in 2010 to provide what it calls “hard evidence” of how laws and policies affect access to information online.

Now, Google is on its eighth such report. The company just released new numbers showing requests from governments to remove content from its services. From January to June 2013, Google said it received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content. That’s a whopping 68 percent increase over the second half of 2012.

Susan Infantino, Legal Director at Google, said one worrying trend has remained consistent over the past four years: governments continue to ask the company to remove political content.

Clear Signs of Censorship

“Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes,” Infantino said.

“These officials often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services. In this particular reporting period, we received 93 requests to take down government criticism and removed content in response to less than one third of them. Four of the requests were submitted as copyright claims.”

Google also reports a significant increase in the number of requests it received from two countries in the first half of 2013. In particular, there was a sharp increase in requests from Turkey. Google received 1,673 requests from Turkish authorities to remove content from our platforms, nearly a tenfold increase over the second half of last year. Infantino said about two-thirds of the total requests -- 1,126 -- called for the removal of 1,345 pieces of content related to alleged violations of law 5651.

Clear Signs of Censorship

Google also reports an increase in activity from Russia, where Infantino said there has been an uptick in requests since a blacklist law took effect last fall. Google received 257 removal requests during this reporting period, which is more than double the number of requests it received throughout 2012.

“While the information we present in our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online, it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests,” Infantino said. “As we continue to add data, we hope it will become increasingly useful and informative in policy debates and decisions around the world.”

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