) -- the tech company, the media company, the societal institution
-- is giant, hard to fully comprehend, and perhaps, with its
data-gathering business model, frightening. It also provides an
incredible set of resources for anyone who uses the Internet; its
products and applications are a major part of our Web-surfing
behavior, at least for most of us. On top of all this, Google tries
its best to be transparent to its users, or at least it seems that
One of the company's transparency measures, part of its
is the "Removal Requests" page, which documents requests from
foreign governments, courts, and executive and police orders. The
page made news today, as Google saw a record number of government
takedown requests in the period from July to December 2012. During
that period, Google received 2,285 government requests from around
the world for the removal of a total of 24,179 pieces of content.
In the fist half of 2012, Google saw 1,811 takedown requests for
around 18,000 pieces of content.
The sharpest increases in requests -- many of which were political
or election related -- came from Brazil and Russia. As Google
stated, "In this particular time period, we received court orders
in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government
officials or their associates." A major target during the time
period was YouTube: 20 countries asked Google to remove clips from
the highly controversial and anti-Islamic film
Innocence of Muslims
(both Brazil and Russia were among the 20).
Since the Transparency Report was launched on July 1, 2009, Google
has received at least one removal request from 90 countries.
Newcomers to the list for the second half of 2012 were Jordan,
Bolivia, and the Czech Republic. In general, the majority of
takedown requests are filed under "Defamation." A distant second
and third are "Privacy and Security" and "Electoral Law,"
respectively. (See the the
page for all 18 categories of removal request.)
The Transparency Report also has pages for Traffic, which notes any
current disruptions of Google products and services, and User Data
Requests, which documents requests that the company receives from
government and courts to hand over user data.
Based on a blog post from David Drummond, Google's chief legal
officer, this is how the process for removal and user data request
works: Requests are scrutinized for legality and scope, and Google
requires government agencies conducting criminal investigations to
use a search warrant if they want to gain access to a user's
information and private content.
Often, many requests have the law on their side and are honored.
Here is one that was not honored by Google in the second half of
2012: Canada requested that YouTube remove a video of a Canadian
citizen urinating on a Canadian passport and flushing it down a
toilet. Google denied the request.
If you are at all concerned that Google might take over the world,
the company itself has given you an ostensible way to keep tabs on
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