Google government censorship and transparency: How big a deal are 6000 requests?

Google government censorship and transparency: How big a deal are 6000 requests?

Summary: Billions of people use Google. What's a few thousand take-down requests among friends? A lot, actually.

TOPICS: Google

Google's report on government censorship, take-down, and user data requests has received quite a bit of attention today, primarily focused on the uptick in US federal requests to the search giant. But are we blowing it out of proportion? Billions of people use Google and hundreds of millions create or post content on its services. As usage of Google's services grows, so too we should expect take-down and data requests to increase, right?

That's true to some extent. The more content there is, the more any particular government will have to sort through and find things that might be objectionable. The uptick we're seeing is, to some extent, an artifact of increased volume rather than increased government scrutiny. That being said, this isn't going to be my usual, "privacy is dead, whatever, stop posting things online you don't want read" mantra. In fact, this is a big deal. I can live with Google using my information to make more money. They provide lots of awesome services that I use every day for free (at least in terms of cash that leaves my bank account) - there needs to be some quid pro quo in all of that.

The real problem is that Google doesn't really have much choice but to comply with US government requests for user data. Government requests to remove copyrighted materials? Fine. Makes some sense, even if our copyright system is badly antiquated and in need of a 21st century makeover. But user data? Google complied, at least in part, with 92% of the government's requests for information on its users. And Google probably knows me better than my wife. And when those requests were accompanied by a court order, the company, by US law, had little recourse.

This is where things get scary. And this is also why, all along, I've said that Google isn't the entity of which we need to be afraid. Sure, they have lots of data on us, but their financial solvency relies upon their judicious use of those data. Our data are their advertising bread and butter. Screw up the pipeline of data and our willingness to turn to Google for countless search queries, YouTube videos, phone operating systems, etc., and they've screwed themselves out of a business model.

But they're a US company with lots of servers on US soil. So they're subject to to increasingly Orwellian laws that don't sit will with US citizens, let alone our European counterparts. US government intrusions into our data are a direct threat to Google's business, both overseas and domestically. I've been on many webcasts covering Google with Canadian and European attendees who won't use Google Apps because of the Patriot Act and related laws. I can't actually say that I blame them.

Sure, we need to prevent terrorism and keep our citizens safe. But if anything will discourage me from Googling, it won't be Google's advertising networks and monetization of my data. It will be my government's ability to get these data with the barest pretense of probable cause.

Topic: Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Torch, meet flame

    [i]Google complied, at least in part, with 92% of the government???s requests for information on its users. [/i]

    The perfect match.
  • It gets better when you consider Google Docs and other cloud apps

    Not only are the Feds sniffing profiling your personal data and search requests, now they can dump all your files into their data crunchers and decide if you have had Communist or Democratic sympathies ...
    terry flores
  • Ben Franklin said it best

    ???Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.???
  • Any second now...

    I expect somebody will post, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of."

    That person would have been very happy in any of the oppressive regimes around the world.
    • Agreed

      It never occurs to those people that there should be limitations to the power that government has over its citizens.
      sissy sue
      • Founding Fathers thought there should be limits

        and they gave us the 2nd amendment to make sure we could take back our freedoms if we were given no other choice. Make no mistake, they did not give you the right to keep and bear arms in case we are invaded, it is not a bad thing if you are to have an armed populace, but in case we had to overthrow a tyranny. They had just done that, and wanted to make sure their children would not have to do it again.
    • Only those with no foresight

      It is not the "having anything to hide" that will get you.. it is merely the "having anything", sooner or later someone in power will want that too. And if you give them the right to just take what they want without recourse.. Give them an inch and they will want a mile.
  • I hope "they do"

    I hope the government does search out all the Communists and Democrats! JUST KIDDING!!! All thoughtful people know if one group is under attack it will not take long for all of us to be under attack.

    All this junk in the name of security is a real problem and Ben Franklin was absolutely correct, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both".
  • All brought to you by......

    The supreme leader Barackski Obamnikov and his ever silent, ever faithful party of Communist (or extreme Fascist) sympathizers.
    • Wow and it is not even over

      and the revisionists are already at it.
      Do you need to be reminded who Signed the Patriot Act? The single most anti-Freedom, anti-Privacy and unrestricting legislation ever passed? George W. Bush, a Republican I believe. With that I can get anything on you.. just because I claim to have overheard you taking about an explosive device. Cast aspersions of terrorism is enough under that act.