Government takedown requests to Google hits new record, company says

December 19, 2013

Running some of the world's most popular online services means Google is constantly being dragged into legal disputes. Law enforcement agencies around the world want Google to give them private user data that could be evidence of a crime. Copyright holders want Google to take down infringing material. Government officials want Google to take down material that is defamatory, pornographic or just plain embarrassing.

In the latest edition of Google's transparency report, released Thursday, Google reveals that such requests continued to grow rapidly in the first six months of 2013.

Google received more than 3,800 requests from public officials around the world to remove content, a new record:

Takedown requests from government officials. (Google)
Takedown requests from government officials. (Google)

Google says it complied with fewer than half of these requests. In many cases, the requests represented efforts by judges, mayors or other public figures to suppress unwelcome criticism of them.

In Brazil, for example, Google received requests on various occasions to remove blog posts criticizing three judges, a mayor, the "director of a public company," and two other "local government officials." In several cases, Google fought the requests, but in cases where appeal wasn't an option, Google removed some content.

Government officials in Turkey also issued a number of takedown demands. In one case, Google was asked to "remove any search results linking to information about a political official and sex scandals." Another request sought to remove a blog that "contains information about the Kurdish party and Kurdish activists." A third request sought to "remove a blog that allegedly defamed a public prosecutor by criticizing the quality of his work." Google says it refused all three requests.

The number of user data requests has also been rising rapidly:

Worldwide user data requests. (Google)
Worldwide user data requests. (Google)

The United States was the most active in submitting data requests. It submitted 10,198 requests for information about 21,683 Google users. India, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Brazil all submitted between 1,000 and 3,000 requests.

Importantly, the report only reflects "statistics about demands in criminal investigations." The U.S. government has refused to allow Google and other technology companies to disclose data about the volume of data requests under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act programs such as PRISM. So the total volume of user data requests from all U.S. agencies, including the National Security Agency, may be significantly higher than 10,000.

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Brian Fung | December 19, 2013