Government requests to take down Web content are on the rise, says Google.
The search-engine giant has released updated figures to that effect in its ongoing Transparency Report. Between January and June 2013, it received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of online content. According to Google’s Official Blog, that’s “a 68 percent increase over the second half of 2012.”
The reasons behind content removals vary widely, from government criticism to geographical disputes. “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 adult content,” Google wrote in the introduction to that section of the Transparency Report. “Laws surrounding these issues vary by country, and the requests reflect the legal context of a given jurisdiction.”
Sharp increases in requests came from Turkey and Russia. In the United States, content-removal requests increased by 70 percent in the first half of 2013, many of which dealt with trademark issues. “We received 27 requests from a federal government agency to suspend 89 apps from the Google Play store that allegedly infringed its trademark rights,” the Report noted. “After reviewing the apps in question with respect to those trademarks, we removed 76 apps.”
In November, Google published a Transparency Report update indicating that government requests for user data were also on the rise. As part of that update, Google released a graphic detailing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests—every inch of it struck through with black marker, similar to how the federal government censors sensitive portions of publicly released reports. That little bit of theatricality hints at the rising tension between Google and the federal government over issues of surveillance and privacy.
“Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent,” Google added in an Official Blog posting at the time. “This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we’re allowed to publish.”
Google’s aggression in revealing government requests stems from a very simple reason: the company needs users to trust it in order to make a profit off online advertising, and that means positioning itself as a diehard opponent of any sort of government intrusion. Over the past few quarters, other companies from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley—many of which also depend on user trust in order to keep functioning—have followed suit by releasing their own comprehensive transparency reports.