Google’s Government Request Tool Promises Transparency

Worried about the prevailing trend of governments requesting to remove contents from its database, Google launches another monitoring tool. The Government Request tool displays a map and a listing of number of requests from governments to Google. Google stated that “government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content.”

Google also notes the fact that there have been a growing number of demands from governments to delete contents from their server. Most of those requests are however legitimate as in the case of taking down child pornography and law enforcement agencies asking for users personal data. Google aims to be transparent in their handling of these requests. They believe that in doing so, it would lead to less censorship. Google fears that most of the censorship initiated by governments “strikes at the heart of open Internet” and “violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” This specifically states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Citing China as example of this, Google also reports that efforts also come from different directions with about 25 out of 100 countries that have access to Blogger, YouTube and GoogleDocs blocked. That and counting the other government requests for data to restricted or removed. Google handles controversial contents removal by distinguishing between search, the content they host and ads. Search in Google, although the least restrictive in terms of censorship adapts to each country’s laws. By default, they do not, censor search results as long as it does not break any of your country’s laws. Platforms hosting content like Blogger, You tube and Picasa Web Album has its own set of rules for each platform. For example, blogger does not allow hate speech but allows legal pornography. Whilst in YouTube, pornography is strictly prohibited. As it happens, the ads capabilities of Google are the most restrictive since they are commercial in nature.

Google promises to inform its users if any of their content is requested for removal or restriction as long as they are legally capable. Although the Government Request Tool only shows limited data for now, Google promises to improve its presentation of the data. It further reiterates that it supports the Global Network Initiative in protecting and advancing freedom of expression and privacy in Information and communications technologies.

Top 5 countries shown in the Government Request Tool (July 2009-Decmber 2009):

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