Google: Government takedown requests rose during first half of 2013

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Robert Scoble

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There’s a worrying trend among government agencies around the globe that are attempting to clamp down on political speech by issuing content takedown requests to Google. And that’s only one the rise, according to the search giant, which has released its biannual count of government takedown requests on its Transparency Report website.

The latest report shows a 68 percent increase in takedown requests from government agencies around the globe compared to the second half of 2012.

Overall, Google says it received 3,846 requests asking for takedowns of more than 27,000 pieces of content during the first six months of 2013. Not all takedowns were successful, but the majority were. In the end, Google removed more than 18,000 pieces of content from its search index and other properties such as Blogger, Google+, and Orkut during the first half of the year.

Political speech wasn’t the only reason that governments requested takedowns. For this report, the eighth since Google began publishing them in 2010, only 93 of the 3,846 requests concerned criticism of various governments, according to Google. Nevertheless, any government attempt to control political speech is a concern—especially when those censorship requests come from ostensibly democratic countries.

Other reasons for takedown requests included content that embarrassed local officials or celebrities, accusations of defamation, and copyright infringement claims. There were also seemingly reasonable takedowns such as South Korea’s requests to remove government-issued personal identification numbers from Google’s search index.

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A summary of all government takedown requests made to Google by biannual reporting period. (Click to enlarge.)

Turkey takes top spot

Turkey was the takedown leader between January and June with 1,673 takedown requests—a tenfold increase from the previous reporting period, Google said. The timeframe of Google’s report coincides with a period of public protests in Turkey.

Two-thirds of Turkey’s requests were enacted under the country’s censorship laws that allow the government to compel Internet takedowns without judicial process. Violations under the law encompass everything from child pornography to “crimes against Atatürk,” the country’s first president and considered the founder of modern Turkey.

American takedown inflation

In the U.S., government agencies and officials asked for a total of 545 takedowns during the first half of 2013, the majority of which were court orders. As a result, Google removed nearly 4,000 pieces of content.

Highlights included 27 requests from a “federal government agency” to pull nearly 90 Android apps from Google Play. The unnamed U.S. federal agency claimed these apps infringed on its trademark rights. Google removed 76 of the apps as a result.

Google also received a court order to remove six search results linking to a claim against a company on Ripoff Report. Google complied with the order, but did not remove a news item that was also named in the court order.

Federal and local government takedown requests from the U.S. rose by 70 percent compared to the second half of 2012.

While Google may not end up complying with all the request it receives, the company said its report demonstrates “a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests.”

The company hopes its transparency reports will spark policy debates about government influence over the Internet in the U.S. and abroad.

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