Google is once again opening its books on government requests for information. First launched three years ago to shine light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the world, Google's seventh Transparency Report reveals more demands than ever to remove content from its services.
The search engine giant reports it received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content from July to December 2012. That's an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content the company received during the first half of 2012.
"As we've gathered and released more data over time, it's become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown," Susan Infantino, legal director at Google, wrote in a blog post. "In more places than ever, we've been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates."
Increases in Brazil, Russia
Infantino went on to offer details of which governments are looking to censor the Internet. She noted a sharp increase in requests from Brazil. Specifically, Google received 697 requests to remove content from its platforms. Of those requests, 640 were court orders. That means the company received an average of 3.5 court orders per day during this last six months of 2012, up from 191 during the first half of the year. But there's a reason for the dramatic rise.
"The big reason for the spike was the municipal elections, which took place last fall. Nearly half of the total requests -- 316 -- called for the removal of 756 pieces of content related to alleged violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates," Infantino said. "We're appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution."
Google also reports increases from Russia. A new law took effect there last fall. Here's the data: In the first half of 2012, Google received six requests. That was the most the company had ever received in any given six-month period from Russia. But in the second half of the year, Google received 114 requests to remove content. Of those, 107 cited the new law.
The Muslim Impact
"During this period, we received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos containing clips of the movie Innocence of Muslims," Infantino said. "While the videos were within our Community Guidelines, we restricted videos from view in several countries in accordance with local law after receiving formal legal complaints. We also temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya due to the particularly difficult circumstances there."
Infantino noted a couple of improvements to the Transparency Report since the last update. For example, Google is now breaking down government requests about YouTube videos to clarify whether it removed videos in response to government requests for violating Community Guidelines, or whether we restricted videos from view due to local laws.
The company also refreshed the look of the Traffic section, aiming to make it easier to see where and when disruptions have occurred to Google services. Now, consumers can see a map where Google services are currently disrupted, as well as a map of all known disruptions since 2009.
"The information we share on the Transparency Report is just a sliver of what happens on the Internet," Infantino said. "But as we disclose more data and continue to expand it over time, we hope it helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online."