Did you ever imagine that the US and England are among the main countries that attempt to block content from the public on Google? Countries like China, North Korea and Iran are the most notorious for imposing massive censorship on their population and Google has even taken measures to deny services in those regions. Now Google has built an interactive Transparency Report that reveals very surprising information about Western countries that also participate in the restriction of free expression. One specific report called Government Requests shows how, in fact, many Western Democratic countries such as your own have attempted to control your access to information via Google. This report reveals which countries’ governments have made requests to remove or retrieve private data from Google, how many requests were made, and how many were actually complied with.
An interesting question in light of this report is if these requests are perhaps legitimate and consist of removing illegal content such as child pornography, defamation, and terrorism? The answer is No. Google has systems already in place to block certain illegal content such as child pornography and Google states that the report ‘does not include violations of our content policies (for example, we do not permit hate speech)’ The report does not go into detail about the contexts surrounding the requests though Google explains that ‘the statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters’ and ‘requests for removal of all other types of content (e.g., alleged defamation, hate speech, impersonation).’
The Government Report contains a column named ‘Data’ which represents the number of requests for data retrieval per country from Google search pages, Gmail,YouTube, and other services. The next column named ‘Removal’ represents the number of request for actual removal of content from Google. When clicking on an individual country, more information pops up about the number of requests Google has fully or partially complied with and from which Google service. These reports can be seen in 6 month time increment reports. The country with the highest number of data requests is the US with 4287 requests and the country with the highest amount of removal requests is Brazil with 398 requests (where 67.6% of removal requests were fully or partially complied with).
There is another intriguing report called ‘Traffic‘ which is a chart that can be filtered by country and Google Service and shows disruptions in free flow of information, whether from a government blocking information or a cable being cut. For instance in Iran, you’ll see a very jagged line representing usage of Google Search throughout time, while in the United States you’ll see a very fluid straight line. In Google’s Blog, they state that ‘Our new traffic tracking tool helps us and others track whether these interruptions are related to mechanical outages or are government-induced. For example, the graphs show that YouTube has been inaccessible in Iran since June 12, 2009, following the disputed presidential election.’
Why is Google divulging all this information to us anyways? Google states that ‘We believe that this kind of transparency can be a deterrent to censorship.’ It seems more like Google is sending a not so subtle message to those countries that vehemently block the free flow of information that their censorship policies are traceable and now the world can see how much, when and what they are blocking.
What do you think of these government requests to block or obtain private data from Google? Is it a violation of our freedom or privacy of information or do you think that governments should be able to block certain content even if it’s not illegal?