the latest numbers from Google are any measure, 2012 is not shaping up
as a good year for free speech on the Internet.
For the last two or so years, following a high-profile dust-up with the
government of China regarding content, the search engine giant Google
unveiled its “Transparency Report.” The site compiles specific requests
from governments or claimed copyright holders to remove or block
content, and charts Google’s responses.
For example, from July to December 2011, the government of Brazil issued
128 court orders to remove content, which Google says it complied with
67% of the time. In contrast Australia only had six requests during the
same period, with a reported Google compliance rate of only 17%.
The report has become a helpful reference for those monitoring the
general tolerance of free expression around the globe, and online trends
in specific countries.
This week, Google released a new trend report, and according to Google’s
Dorothy Chou, Google Senior Policy Analyst, the news is troubling.
“When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations
with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers,” writes
Chou on the company blog. “We noticed that government agencies from
different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content
that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an
aberration. But now we know it’s not.”
latest report goes on to detail a noticeable increase in the number of
governments requesting material be taken down or blocked not for legal
reasons per se, but more for image purposes. 270 requests came from
Spain regarding material that was critical of public officials,
including links, blog posts and YouTube videos; a first-ever request
came from Poland to remove an item critical of the Polish Agency for
Enterprise Development. Google says it did not comply with any of these
However, overall Google reports a 65% compliance rate with take-down
requests, and as those requests increase – even for nonlegal reasons –
so, too, do worries about a growing intolerance of free online
“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,” says Chou
of the data.