Government Requests – Google’s New Software Shames the Man

Coming off their recent corporate soul-searching spurred by the censorship and cyber warfare plied through the Chinese government, Google is understandably sensitive to the impingement of the free disclosure of information, especially by state actors. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that out of what seems to be a mixture of societal responsibility and atonement for complicity, emerged Google’s newest online service: Government Requests.

Currently housing queries from July 1st to December 31st 2009, Government Requests is a composite of official state appeals for information held by Google or for the removal of material hosted by Google. Selecting any one country reveals an interesting breakdown by the types of removal requests. It even specifies whether it was the result of a court order. While they stop shy of posting the specific Gmail accounts or blogs that got the axe, they don’t hesitate to list the percentage of requests in which Google, at least partially, complied.

So how do all of these numbers play out? The odd front-runner in both data and removal requests is Brazil. With 291 appeals for content removal, Brazil has nearly twice as many as the second place contender, Germany. The United States is fourth in this standing with 123 requests, more than half of which are specific to YouTube videos. While Brazil is still first among nations as relates to official requests for information regarding accounts, user profile data, etc, the United States comes in a close second (3580). A distant third, the United Kingdom has only 1166 data requests. Regarding frequency of compliance (for all countries with more than 10 removal requests), Canada falls in at a lowly 43.8%. Having only 16 removal requests, however, their sample size isn’t large enough to condemn the nation as frivolous and petty. Spain, with almost twice as many only ranks in at 53.1%. Out of the heavy weights, the US comes in at 80.5%, Brazil at 82.5%, and Germany at a whopping 94.1% compliance.

Woefully lacking from the list of nations is Google’s former patron, China. Well, it is there, immediately adjacent to an unflatteringly naked question mark. Clicking on China displays the following, “Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time.” Note the name of the website, “Government Requests”, then consider the wording of Google’s statement regarding China. “Censorship demands” is pointedly accurate, but aren’t all of these, more or less, censorship demands? Tuh-mey-toh, tuh-mah-toh, I guess.

I’m excited and (dare I say?) proud of Google for their latest stride into the deep end of the transparency pool. It might just boil down to freedom of information being good for their bottom line, but I’m not buying that as the whole story. Google is a corporation with a conscious, and they are still recovering from the vile taint of forced censorship that corrupted their business in China. With promises to update the database again in six months, and a disclaimer that, “We’re new at this, and we’re still learning the best way to collect and present this information,” it appears Google plans to keep the site going for some time. Maybe the next step is to post the name of the removed blog, the address of the missing block in Street View, or the transcript of the pulled YouTube video. Bring it on, I say. Each government should be held accountable for every mote of censorship that they require their people to endure.

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~ by Wil Finley on April 20, 2010.

One Response to “Government Requests – Google’s New Software Shames the Man”

  1. Being court ordered to remove some of these items and then posting exactly what they were would probably defeat the purpose by giving them a lot more publicity. So I doubt they will ever get specific.
    I am really curious about that 1 book search in the US, though.

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