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Google Sees Record Level of Government Takedown Requests

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Google's Removal Requests report is out for the second half of 2012. The company received 2,285 requests during that time period.

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) -- the tech company, the media company, the societal institution -- is giant, hard to fully comprehend, and perhaps, with its data-gathering business model, frightening. It also provides an incredible set of resources for anyone who uses the Internet; its products and applications are a major part of our Web-surfing behavior, at least for most of us. On top of all this, Google tries its best to be transparent to its users, or at least it seems that way.

One of the company's transparency measures, part of its three-year-old Transparency Report, is the "Removal Requests" page, which documents requests from foreign governments, courts, and executive and police orders. The page made news today, as Google saw a record number of government takedown requests in the period from July to December 2012. During that period, Google received 2,285 government requests from around the world for the removal of a total of 24,179 pieces of content. In the fist half of 2012, Google saw 1,811 takedown requests for around 18,000 pieces of content.

The sharpest increases in requests -- many of which were political or election related -- came from Brazil and Russia. As Google stated, "In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates." A major target during the time period was YouTube: 20 countries asked Google to remove clips from the highly controversial and anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims (both Brazil and Russia were among the 20).

Since the Transparency Report was launched on July 1, 2009, Google has received at least one removal request from 90 countries. Newcomers to the list for the second half of 2012 were Jordan, Bolivia, and the Czech Republic. In general, the majority of takedown requests are filed under "Defamation." A distant second and third are "Privacy and Security" and "Electoral Law," respectively. (See the the Removal Requests page for all 18 categories of removal request.)

The Transparency Report also has pages for Traffic, which notes any current disruptions of Google products and services, and User Data Requests, which documents requests that the company receives from government and courts to hand over user data.

Based on a blog post from David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, this is how the process for removal and user data request works: Requests are scrutinized for legality and scope, and Google requires government agencies conducting criminal investigations to use a search warrant if they want to gain access to a user's information and private content.

Often, many requests have the law on their side and are honored. Here is one that was not honored by Google in the second half of 2012: Canada requested that YouTube remove a video of a Canadian citizen urinating on a Canadian passport and flushing it down a toilet. Google denied the request.

If you are at all concerned that Google might take over the world, the company itself has given you an ostensible way to keep tabs on global Googleization.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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