Thursday, April 22, 2010

Google Shines Light on Government Requests

Google has launched a new service designed to inform its users about which governments request the removal of content and data about Google users. According to Google, "we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. The map shows the number of requests that we received between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, with certain limitations. We know these numbers are imperfect and may not provide a complete picture of these government requests. For example, a single request may ask for the removal of more than one URL or for the disclosure of information for multiple users. See the FAQ for more information."

Check out the service here.


dana said...

I found this link interesting for a number of reasons, but one thing in particular stood out to me: Google has a lot of power for a private company. To see all these countries all over the world requesting Google’s assistance in government functions ranging from mass censorship to law enforcement, makes you realize that Google is becoming far more powerful than your average global private company.

It makes me wonder whether in the future private companies might grow stronger than national governments through their use of the Internet. By reaching people all over the globe using technology, it almost seems like private companies might be able to amass people, information, money, etc. that will act as leverage over national governments. For instance, what if in the future, Google’s data becomes so valuable to the U.S. that Google starts to have leverage over the U.S. government and other governments who want its services. It sounds kind of far-fetched, but at the same time, it’s shocking to see how many countries currently feel they need Google’s services to serve their national interests in one way or the other.

I think this idea goes along with our discussions about how the Internet is beginning to blur the lines between state and non-state actors in war— except that it seems the Internet is also fuzzing out the distinction between state and non-state actors outside the realm of war. I think this also sort of goes along with what we were saying in class about the need for the government and private businesses to work together to achieve better security in the digital age. In other words, because the Internet is leveling the playing field between state and non-state actors in a variety of ways, in the future, the government will need to become increasingly integrated with private businesses and other non-state actors whether it likes it or not.

Sarah Balistreri said...

I definitely agree with Dana; private companies do have a lot of power, as they apparently own 85-90% of the Internet’s infrastructure and because, as private entities, they are not subject to much of regulation that government agencies face. But when you bring national security into the picture, I wonder how much power they truly have. In dealing with requests from government agencies for information, the companies often have little choice but to comply. So although Google may be making the quantity of these requests public, they still comply with the governments’ requests, up to a point. Contradicting that point, however, is Google’s removal of its services from China. It will be interesting to observe the interactions between private companies and national governments in the future.

A BBC article ( reported that Google is making this information public in the spirit of Global Network Initiative, which promotes freedom of expression online. Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, states, “We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship. Unless companies, governments and individuals do something, the internet we know is likely to become ever more restricted - taking choice and control away from users and putting more power in the hands of those who would limit access to information.” I commend Google in their efforts to prevent this from happening. Like we discussed in class, the concept of an “Internet driver’s license” and essentially any sort of restriction of the use of the Internet goes against so many of the positive things the World Wide Web does for us. I think that Google’s effort to make censorship and information requests more transparent is an important first step in taking measures to keep the Internet a free zone. The end of the BBC article notes that the information released by Google is not as transparent as it could be, as they do not release specific information on how many request they comply with and deny, but Google says that it will work to perfect the service in the future.

Matthew D. said...

I got a chance to play around with this new service on Google’s website, and I have to say I really like the concept and the general spirit with which it was launched. We spent the first half of the semester talking about privacy issues and how the government can use technology to infringe upon our right to privacy. This service, however, attempts to protect our right to free speech and expression. It attempts to hold governments responsible for their actions by making public any actions that are potentially harmful to our rights as citizens. It also allows citizens across the world to compare their government’s interaction with Google to other governments’.

While I was looking through the lists and comparing states, I noticed a few very interesting things about the information Google provides. The fact that the US had the fourth most removal requests and that it had the second most data requests surprised me. I am not sure if it is the fact that the US has more Internet users than other countries that explain this, or if they just make that many requests. Either way, I find our numbers rather alarming. I fail to see how the US can claim to protect the freedom of speech when the government petitions a private company to censor its users. I can understand the concept of censorship in the interest of national security, but these requests were the ones that were not a threat.

Shifting gears a little, I also found it noteworthy, but not unexpected, that China’s statistics were unavailable. While we are familiar with the situation in China because of our class, I think this website will draw the attention of the less informed to this issue. It has the potential to raise awareness of the horrible civil liberties situation in communist China. Hopefully, people will take an interest in how the government is using the Internet to censor and indoctrinate its citizens.

John said...

Touching on the points that Matthew made, I thought it wasn't all that surprising that the US was second in data requests and fourth in removal requests. I think it makes sense that the US has so many internet users and people in the US put so much information on the internet. With so many people on the internet, there are bound to be some things put up that shouldn't be there. For example, I volunteered at the White House Easter Egg Roll a few weeks back, and they told us we could take whatever pictures we wanted, just none of the first family. There is the chance that removal requests could constitute something like that. I couldn't figure out exactly what types of requests they showed or didn't show in terms of national security, etc.

I was surprised by the number of requests in both categories for Brazil until i looked at Google's overview of the tool where they explain the use of orkut. They explain that in India and Brazil requests are high because of the popularity of this social networking site in those nations, and many of those requests came from that site.

Like Matthew, I wasn't surprised either to see that China's information was missing. The overview also gives a brief explanation about this, and it even mentions the shift in March from to and the change to no censorship of this site. I thought it was interesting that they chose this as a spot to once again point out their ongoing feud with the Chinese government over censorship. On that note, they also mention that very few of the requests center on political speech, but that those are the ones that cause the most heated debates. Besides China, there are also no numbers for North Korea, and very little information is given on Russia. Given what we've talked about with these countries' tendencies toward strict control over information, especially about government activities.

Julia said...

not want them to collect data about their citizens without the users’ or the country’s consent? I think they really do have the right to do so. When Google launches a site in a different country it needs to obey its laws. It is also a business and businesses are forced to obey laws. I really do not understand, how the internet seems to be almost “law free”.
Also this feature does not show what requests Google was facing. I think that this easily creates a misconception. If Google decided to create this, they should enclose all the information about it or not do it at all. Google itself says that this may portray an “imperfect” picture, since the data is not perfectly correct.
Why did Google do this? Is it for publicity? Marketing how they honor some countries’ requests? Or do they want to show that they have data not only on individuals but also on governments? I am pretty sure that they signed contracts prohibiting from disclocing too much information about those requests.
Moreover, Google really should spent more time concentrating on the protection of its information. Yes, we all are very happy that they admitted to have been hacked. But the truth is that they did not really enclose the extent of the hacking.
( (
Google’s official reasoning is very ironic. “In a blog post on Tuesday, Google said it hopes the new Government Requests site ‘will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe. We also hope that this is just the first step toward increased transparency about these actions across the technology and communications industries.’ ” (;jsessionid=2WROBUYK2G4SJQE1GHOSKHWATMY32JVN_)
They themselves are not transparent at all that they collect data about us, that if we erase an email, it will be stored at their servers for forever and so on …

NIck G said...

Its very interesting to see just how much power Google has. They provide a large amount of information and resources to the public. They keep the data that is recorded as to what their users are looking up and searching for. This information can be very useful to a government or private company for numerous reasons. Governments can track criminals and what they are searching using the help of Google and smaller companies can use the information in marketing strategies.

When looking at the information Google has released as to what Governments are asking for data or data removal it is interesting to see which Governments are involved. Brazil has the most Data requests and data removal requests which is not who I would have guessed. They have the fifth largest contingent of internet users. The large amount of users must have a hand in the Governments interest in Googles Data. The other countries on the top of the list are more understandable as they have large amounts of internet users.

What is truly interesting in this article is how Google went and turned it around of the government agencies requesting this data. Instead of showing the government agencies the information that they would like to know or removing information the governments have asked them to remove, they are releasing which governments are asking what.