Google: Govt censorship trend 'troubling'

Web giant's Transparency Report shows governments, even Western democracies not typically associated with censorship, continuing to ask for removal of political content, which Google describes as "alarming".

Google has released its fifth installment of its Transparency Report detailing the number of requests made by governments to remove online content from its services, and with it, notes its "alarm" that free expression on the Web appears to be increasingly curbed by countries--notably Western democracies not known for censorship.

In a blog post Monday, the Web giant stated there had been more than 467 requests by international courts requesting it to remove content from its various services or hand over user information. The company complied with an average of 65 percent of such requests.

By comparison, requests from other government agencies such as the police or executive bodies numbered more than 561, but the compliance rate was lower, at 47 percent.

Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst at Google, stated in the blog post that since it started releasing such data in 2010, the company had observed government agencies from various countries requesting the removal of political content posted by users but it had hoped such acts were "an aberration". Now, it knows it is not, she said.

"This is the fifth data set that we've released, and just like every time before, we've been asked to take down political speech," Chou wrote. "It's alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect--Western democracies not typically associated with censorship."

She cited an instance when Spanish regulators requested Google remove 270 search results linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. Similarly, in Poland, it received a request by a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. The company did not comply with either request, Chou said, but did not state why.

In Asia, the Transparency Report highlighted India as having increased its content removal requests by 49 percent compared to the previous reporting period.

Thailand's Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology also sent in four requests to remove 149 YouTube videos that allegedly insulted the country's monarchy and was in violation of its lese majeste law. Google restricted 70 percent of these videos from view in Thailand, in accordance with local law, it stated.