Google Pulls Back the Curtain Again: A Brief Review of Its Transparency Report

by Matthew L. Schafer

Yesterday, Google released its transparency report for the first half of 2012.  The report, which Google releases on a biannual basis, tracks user traffic to Google sites around the world, intellectual property takedown requests, government takedown requests, and government requests for user information, among other things.

The most notably takeaway from the most recent report?  Governments are getting greedy.

Since Google started releasing its transparency reports in 2009, government requests for user information have been on the rise.  In the last half of 2009, governments around the world made about 12,500 requests of Google to turn over its users’ information.  In 2010,  governments made about 28,000 requests for information.  And, in 2011, governments asked Google for information on 34,000 separate occasions.

In the first half of 2012, the numbers are still growing growing.  Indeed, in the first half of the year, governments requested more information on users than ever before: Google received over 20,000 requests.

“This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise,” Google reported.  “In the first half of 2012, there were 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world.  Those requests were for information about 34,614 accounts.”

Compared to other countries, the United States outdid itself in the first-half of 2012, racking up nearly 8,000 requests for information on Google users.  That’s up from 3,500 requests in late 2009, and, most recently, 6,300 requests in the last half of 2011.

India requested the most information next to the United States, but its requests barely broke the low 2,000s.  Next to the United States and India, other frequent requesters included Brazil, United Kingdom, and Germany.

Google from time to time does refuse to comply with government requests for information.  Nonetheless, it complies with the vast majority of requests from the United States (90%) and the Japan (86%).  But, it is especially less acquiescent to other countries: United Kingdom (64%); France (42%), and Germany (39%).

The United States is also leading the pack in the number of removal requests it makes each year.  In the first part of 2012, the United States requested Google remove content on some 200 different occasions.  The reasons for the removals vary:

Governments ask companies to remove content for many different reasons.  For example, some content removals are requested due to allegations of defamation, while others are due to allegations that the content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or pornography.

Notably, the more the United States requests takedowns, the less likely Google will comply.  In late 2009, for example, the United States submitted takedown requests 123 times.  Google complied with 80% of those requests.  As of 2012, however, the United States made over 200 requests, but Google only complied with 46% of those requests.

That decreasing compliance rate is evidenced in anecdotal data as well.  “We received five requests and one court order to remove seven YouTube videos for criticizing local and state government agencies, law enforcement or public officials,” Google reported.  “We did not remove content in response to these requests.”

 

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About Matthew L. Schafer

Matthew L. Schafer graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Studies. He later attended Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication where he earned a Masters of Mass Communication and Georgetown University Law Center where he earned his J.D. After graduation, he will practice media law in Washington, D.C.
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