In the past six months, Google has received more than 1,000 government requests – from governments around the world – to remove links such as search listings and YouTube videos. The search engine complied with around 68% of these requests, and last month released a catalog with every single request as part of the biannual Global Transparency Report it’s required to provide every six months.
“When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not,” says Dorthy Chou, one of Google’s senior policy analysts. “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different.”
Google reported over 450 court orders to removed almost 7,000 items from their search engine. There were also around 500 informal requests, but they complied with less than half of those. This study doesn’t include activity from China or Iran because these countries block Google content without notifying the search engine of their actions.
“Just like every other time, we’ve been asked to take down political speech,” Chou blogged. “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.”
The denied requests included a Spanish request for 270 blogs to have their links removed that had linked to famous Spanish public figures, and a Canadian request to remove a YouTube video of a Canadian urinating on his passport and then flushing it down the toilet.
Google did comply with some requests, such as removing links for UK police that were found to promote terrorism. The majority of US requests had to do with harassment or bullying, and around half were removed.