Knight Center
Knight Center


U.S., Brazil top list of governments requesting online content be censored, according to Google's transparency report

In its biannual Global Transparency Report, Google reported that in the past six months, the Internet giant has received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the world to take down information, whether YouTube videos or search listings, according to CNET. This "alarming" level of steadily increasing government censorship included 187 requests from the U.S. government to remove 6,192 pieces of content, 42 percent of which Google complied with, Google said. That's a 103 percent increase over the previous six-month period, reported Politico.

The Global Transparency Report, released Sunday, June 17, provides data from July to December 2011. Noting that this was the fifth such transparency report released, the official Google blog said that "just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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."

Most of the removal requests were related to politics, such as YouTube videos criticizing governments, reported GlobalPost.

Besides requests to take down content, the Google report also includes data on governments' requests for user information. For the fourth report in a row, the United States has topped the list of countries requesting user data, reported Mashable. The U.S. filed 6,321 requests for information from 12,243 users; Google complied with 93 percent of the United States' user data requests -- the highest compliance rate of any country on the list. Brazil enjoyed the second-highest compliance rate, at 90 percent of its 1,615 requests for user data granted.

Brazil's government filed 194 requests for 554 content items to be removed, and Google complied with 54 percent of those requests. According to Google, take-down requests in Brazil are high in comparison with other countries because of the popularity of the Google social networking site Orkut.

This was the first time the report included removal requests from the Bolivian government. Less than 10 requests were filed, and 100 percent were complied with.

The Index on Censorship highlighted one content removal request that Google did not approve: The Canadian government unsuccessfully requested that Google take down a YouTube video of a man urinating on his Canadian passport and then flushing it down the toilet.

Ironically, while leading the rest of the world in requests to censor online information, the United States and Brazil also are meanwhile leading an international transparency initiative for open government.

Other Related Headlines:
» Knight Center (Courts block bank accounts of Google Brazil for refusing to take down blogs deemed offensive toward mayor)

1 comment

Perumula wrote 5 years 43 weeks ago

Clarification needed

The impression left from several of the stories published about the attempts at censorship, as well as this piece, left the impression that central governments are responsible for the requests. As a practicing journo I went to Google's information on this and was surprised that local government agencies at least in the US were largely responsible as shown in this graph:

"We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for alleged harassment. We did not comply with this request. Separately, we received a request from a different local law enforcement agency to remove five user accounts that allegedly contained threatening and/or harassing content. We terminated four of the accounts, which resulted in the removal of approximately 300 videos, but did not remove the remaining account with 54 videos."

The larger impression conveyed was of "governments" —not individual agencies somewhere in the country acting on their own—bearing down on freedom of expression. A bit of editing and perspective would have helped the reader in this case.

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