Google's data removal requests spike to over 2,000

More governments worldwide are asking the site to take down political content

The number of government requests that Google has received to remove certain types of content, often politically charged, reached its highest level ever during the second half of 2012, the company reported Thursday.

For the period between July and December 2012, the company received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content, a 26 percent increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that Google received during the first half of 2012, the company said in its latest Transparency Report.

"As we've gathered and released more data over time, it's become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown," Susan Infantino, Google's legal director, said in a blog post. "In more places than ever, we've been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services," she added.

Government-led data removal requests to Google can be made under a variety of circumstances. Content removals may be requested due to allegations of defamation, while others may be the result of allegations that the content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or adult content, Google said. Also, the laws surrounding these issues vary by country, so the requests reflect the legal context of any given jurisdiction, the company explained.

Still, at close to 40 percent, defamation-related content has accounted for the majority of data removal requests since July 2010. Privacy and security issues is the second-most-cited reason, at just under 20 percent. Other factors have included electoral law, government criticism, hate speech and religious offense.

For the most recent period ending last December, the nearly 1,500 court orders Google received were responsible for the majority of its content removal requests. Executive-branch and police-initiated requests represented the balance.

In its analysis, Google points to three particular incidents during the second half of 2012. First, there was a sharp rise in requests from Brazil following last fall's municipal elections, the company said. More than 300 of those requests were connected to violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates. Google says it is appealing many of these cases, however, on the grounds of freedom of expression under the country's constitution.

There was also an increase of removal requests in Russia, where a new law to protect children from harmful Internet content was enacted last fall, by allowing the government to take certain sites offline. And during the second half of 2012 Google also received inquiries from 20 countries regarding clips on YouTube of the movie "Innocence of Muslims," which were within the company's guidelines but still sparked legal complaints due to local laws, Google said.

In its biannual Transparency Report, Google also discloses real-time and historical traffic data outlining where and when disruptions have occurred to Google services. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, China, Morocco and Iran comprise six regions with ongoing disruptions tied to Google's YouTube, Blogger, Picasa photo album and Google Earth sites.

At 21,389, the number of government requests to obtain user data, meanwhile, were roughly flat compared to the 20,938 requests obtained during the first six months of 2012. In its previous report, Google noted that user data requests of all kinds have increased by more than 70 percent since 2009.

Still, the information Google shares in its Transparency Report, which documents a range of government requests, constitutes "just a sliver of what happens on the Internet," the company said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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