Government Removal Requests Increase In Most Recent Google Transparency Report
December 20, 2013

Google Transparency Report Shows Increase in Removal Requests

Enid Burns for – Your Universe Online

Google released its transparency report detailing government requests received by the search engine between January and June of 2013. The report shows a 68 percent increase, when compared to the same period the year before, in government requests to remove content.

The report brings out an underlying theme: government requests to remove content continue to rise. "Over the past four years, one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content," wrote Susan Infantino, legal director for Google, in a statement on the transparency report.

There are instances of removal requests that show government departments and figures in a bad light. The report cites judges have asked Google to remove information that's critical of them. Police departments have asked Google to take down videos or blogs that reveal their conduct. Local institutions such as town councils also look to obscure information about their decision-making process. "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," Infantino wrote.

In the first half of 2013, Google received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content. Google says the increase is 68 percent when compared to requests for the second half of 2012.

Two countries increased their requests for Google to remove content. Both Turkey and Russia stepped up their efforts to have information removed. Turkish authorities submitted 1,673 requests to remove content from Google platforms. This increase is nearly tenfold when compared to the second half of last year. Among the requests, 1,126 called for the removal of 1,345 pieces of content related to alleged violations of law 5651, a censorship law that regulates crimes committed via the Internet. Google removed 188 items in those requests from Turkish government agencies after determining the items violated the company's public policies. Google said it received a court order to remove any search results linking to information about a political official and sex scandals. Google said it did not remove any search results under this request. Google did remove a number of blog posts for violating the company's product policies when Turkish authorities issued three court orders directed at third parties to remove several blog posts containing private emails, phone numbers, bank account information and national identification numbers for several government officials.

Russian authorities also increased their requests of Google to take down content to conform to a blacklist law that took effect last fall. Google received 257 removal requests during the first six months of 2013. The number of requests was more than double the number of requests received for the whole 2012 year. Overall, the number of content removal requests Google received increased by 125 percent compared to the previous reporting period in the second half of 2012. Google received a request from a local government agency to remove a YouTube video that allegedly infringed copyright. The video contained a photo that the agency claimed to own. "The video also criticized the agency," the transparency report said. Google removed the video pursuant to the company's copyright policy.

The number of requests submitted by the United States government also increased by 70 percent, as compared to the previous reporting period. Google received 27 requests from a federal government agency to suspend 89 apps from the Google Play store. The apps allegedly infringed on the government's trademark rights. Google removed 76 apps after reviewing them with respect to those trademarks. A local law enforcement official submitted a request for Google to remove a search result linking to a news article about his record as an officer. Google did not remove the search result in that case.

Google launched the transparency report in 2010. The report provides evidence on how laws and policies affect access to information online. In a previous report released in June, Google added a section of the report that displays how many users receive a safe browsing warning alerting them to a potentially dangerous website.