Google: Western democracies too seek to censor political content

The company released on Sunday its Transparency Report on content takedown and user information requests from governments

Western democracies, which are not typically associated with censorship, have demanded that Google take down certain political videos, blog posts, and other content, the company said Sunday.

The company as on previous occasions has been asked to take down political speech in many countries, Google said.

"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," said Dorothy Chou, Google's senior policy analyst in a blog post.

Google received for example a request from Canada's passport issuing office to remove a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. "We did not comply with this request," Google said.

Spanish regulators asked Google in the second half of last year to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers that referred to individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. "In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it," Chou said. Google said it didn't comply with both requests.

U.S. government requests to remove content have for example increased by 103 percent in the second half of last year from the first half, Google said in its Transparency Report which it released Sunday.

In the U.S., one of the requests the Internet company received was from a local law enforcement agency to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for alleged harassment, but it did not comply with the request. It also received a court order to remove 218 search results that linked to allegedly defamatory websites, and removed 25 percent of the results cited.

But Google also complied with some requests from governments such as one from Thailand to remove 149 YouTube videos that allegedly insulted the country's monarchy, which is a crime in the country. "We restricted 70 percent of these videos from view in Thailand in accordance with local law," it said. Following a request from a UK police association, Google terminated five YouTube user accounts that allegedly promoted terrorism on the grounds that they violated the website's guidelines, and removed as a result about 640 videos.

Worldwide, Google said it had received over 467 court orders covering over 7000 items between July and December 2011. It also received 561 other requests, including from the police, covering about 5,000 items in the second half.

Other countries that are known to have differences with Google over online content also continued to demand removal of such content. In India for example the number of content removal requests from the government increased by 49 percent compared to the previous reporting period.

Google along with some other Internet companies already faces lawsuits in India for content found objectionable on its websites. A key issue in the dispute is whether an intermediary can be held liable for third-party content on its websites.

The U.S. topped in requests for user data with 6,321 requests of which 93 percent were fully or partially complied with, while India came second with over 2,000 requests of which 66 percent were complied with by Google. Some of the requests in the U.S. were on behalf of other governments.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

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