Governments want more Google content removed, with Turkey and Russia getting extra greedy

Harmful political speech played a big role in the uptick

Google saw a sharp rise in the number of government requests to have users' content removed during the first half of this year, in many cases for political reasons, the company reported on Thursday.

Apparently, as more people take to Google to document and store information about goings on in the world, more governments and institutions have grown increasingly weary over how that information might damage their reputations and political processes. In response, the rate at which governments and other authorities are asking the Internet giant to remove certain types of content is going up -- aggressively.

Google reported a 68 percent rise in those types of requests for the first six months of 2013, compared to the second half of last year. In total, the company received some 3,800 government requests to remove nearly 25,000 pieces of content.

The trend is worrying, Google said in its latest transparency report, which is designed to illuminate how laws and policies affect others' access to the information users store online.

"Governments continue to ask us to remove political content," said Susan Infantino, Google's legal director, in the report.

The objectors include judges miffed by information that's critical of them, police departments tarnished by videos and blogs revealing their conduct, and town councils that don't want others to learn about their decision-making processes, Google said. There were 93 requests to take down these sorts of criticisms, Google said. Less than one-third of them were granted.

Google called out two countries in particular for stepping up their requests: Turkey and Russia, both of which have continually asked for more content to be removed. For Turkey, there was nearly a tenfold increase in removal requests over the second half of last year, Google said. About two-thirds of Turkey's roughly 1,100 requests were due to alleged violations of law 5651, which prohibits crimes against Ataturk, the first Turkish president, as well as promotion of prostitution and gambling.

In Russia there was an uptick in requests following a blacklist law that took effect last fall, Google said. The company received 257 removal requests during the first half of this year -- more than double the number of requests received throughout 2012, Google said. Blog posts, Google Play apps, YouTube videos and images comprised a good chunk of the objectionable content.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., content removal requests to Google increased by 70 percent, with 340 requests related to defamation on services like Gmail, Google+ and YouTube.

Google started releasing transparency reports in 2010. But Internet companies might face rising pressure now to be more forthcoming about the extent to which governments can access their data, given recent disclosures around U.S. and U.K. surveillance programs.

Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter release similar reports.

Google's hope is that as it continues to add data to its reports, "it will become increasingly useful and informative in policy debates," Google's Infantino 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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