Google's transparency report reveals sharp rise in takedown requests

Google's transparency report for the past six months shows a rise amongst the U.S. and European countries requesting the takedown of online content.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

Google's transparency report shows a general trend in rising requests by governments, law enforcement agencies and the courts, to takedown content that infringes rights or breaks the law.

The data, though designed as part of Google's open government policy, and to allow developers to 'mash up' the released data for custom consumption, the report sheds light on the nature of privacy around the world.

But the search giant notes that the data is difficult to break down and to be made into a format for which users can understand and have simplified controls over the released data. Also, with a fragmented web after the Arab Spring uprisings earlier this year, it has led to many countries with poor human rights records losing Internet access for months at a time.

The UK government requested the takedown of 135 YouTube videos for reasons pertaining to national security during the first half of the year, as part of a 71 percent rise in requests from the previous six months.

The six-month time period ending in June this year showed the UK government made requests based on privacy, inciting violence or hate speech and 'other' -- a category that includes civil law cases and court orders, also. Google noted that it had partially or fully complied with government requests 82 percent of the time.

To put this into some context, one request does not necessarily relate to one case. As the Wall Street Journal highlights, in France, a defamation case between a married couple resulted in 180 items from Google Groups removed.

The German government also appears to be dealing with an extremism problem, particularly relating to Nazi-related material posted on YouTube.

In total, the German law enforcement, government and courts asked for 583 YouTube videos to be removed. Over half that figure containing 'hate speech', for which Google explained that violates German child protection laws, with videos containing Nazi content or extreme violence or pornography.

On the whole, Germany's takedown requests went up by 38 percent across its services, showing a growing need to control the content its citizens publish on the web.

The U.S. government once again leads with the most requests, totalling 5,950 data subject requests linked to over 11,000 individual users or their accounts. That figure is up by nearly a quarter on the preceding half-year, with Google complying 93 percent of the time.

While the United States was keen to request the removal of YouTube videos that appear to display police brutality, but in a number of cases it did not comply.

In total, U.S. authorities made 113 requests for video content to be removed, with one request under the note of "showing government criticism". With this in mind, it may not come as a surprise that Google's compliance was lower than other countries', with just 63 percent of removal requests carried out.

But the numbers are probably far higher than what is disclosed publicly, as CNET colleague Elinor Mills points out, as many of these requests will be secret and classified for reasons relating to national security. Requests made by intelligence agencies will not be counted, as these will often be restricted from publication.

What is clear is that as Google makes more of this information public, the governments in question will be under increasing scrutiny to modernise many of the outdated laws that seem to infringe civil rights and liberties.

Considering many laws relating to modern electronic interception of data and email communications were written at a time when email on the most part did not widely exist, it shows a clear disparity in the laws at present, and a growing need to update laws which go above and beyond what they were intended for.


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