Governments asking Google to remove more content


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — U.S. authorities are leading the charge as governments around the world pepper Google with more demands to remove online content and turn over information about people using its Internet search engine, YouTube video site and other services.

Google Inc. provided a glimpse at the onslaught of government requests in a summary posted on its website late Sunday. The breakdown covers the final six months of last year. It's the fifth time that Google has released a six-month snapshot of government requests since the company engaged in a high-profile battle over online censorship with China's communist leadership in 2010.

The country-by-country capsule illustrates the pressure Google faces as it tries to obey the disparate laws in various countries while trying to uphold its commitment to free expression and protect the sanctity its more than 1 billion users' personal information.

Governments zero in on Google because its services have become staples of our digital-driven lives. Besides running the Internet's most dominant search engine, Google owns the most watched video site in YouTube, operates widely used blogging and email services and distributes Android, the top operating system on mobile phones. During the past year, Google has focused on expanding Plus, a social networking service, that boasts more than 170 million users.

Many of the requests are legitimate attempts to enforce laws governing hot-button issues ranging from personal privacy to hate speech.

But Google says it increasingly fields requests from government agencies trying to use their power to suppress political opinions and other material they don't like.

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

That comment may have been aimed at the U.S., where police prosecutors, courts and other government agencies submitted 187 requests to remove content from July through December last year, more than doubling from 92 requests from January through June.

Only Brazil's government agencies submitted more content removal requests with a total of 194 during the final half of last year. But that figure was down from 224 requests in Brazil during the first half of the year.

Brazil's requests covered a more narrow range of content than the U.S. demands. The submissions from Brazil covered 554 different pieces of content while the U.S. requests sought to censor nearly 6,200 items.

Google usually gets a lot of removal requests from Brazil because it runs a 8-year-old social network called Orkut that is a popular forum in that country. Orkut gets so little usage in most other countries that Google took another stab at social networking by creating Plus last year.

The U.S. requests included 117 court orders, including one that instructed Google to remove 218 search results linking to websites containing content alleged to be defamatory. Google said it censored about 25 percent of the search results covered in that court order.

This report marks the first time that Google has quantified how many of the removal requests came through court orders.

Google wound up at least partially complying with 42 percent of the content removal requests in the U.S. and 54 percent in the Brazil.

Other governments frequently reaching out to Google included Germany (103 content-removal requests, down 18 percent from the previous six-month period), and India (101 requests, a 49 percent increase).

At least four countries — Bolivia, the Czech Republic, Jordan and Ukraine — asked Google to remove content for the first time during the final six months of last year.

Google's censorship report doesn't include China and Iran because those countries deploy filters to block content that their governments have deemed objectionable.

Governments also are leaning Google more frequently for information about people suspected of breaking the law or engaging in other mischief.

The U.S. government filed 6,321 requests with Google for user data during the final six months of the year. That was far more than any other country, according to Google, and a 6 percent increase from the previous six months. Google complied with 93 percent of the U.S. requests for user data, encompassing more than 12,200 accounts.

U.S. authorities lodge some of the user data requests on behalf of other countries covered by legal assistance agreements and other rules of cooperation.

India accounted for the second highest volume of user data requests with 2,207, a 27 percent increase from the previous six-month period. Google complied with two-thirds of India's requests, which targeted more than 3,400 Google users.

All told, Google received a more than 18,250 requests for user data during the final six months of last year, a 16 percent increase from the first half of the year.