Google’s Transparency Report is looked at each year as a barometer of sorts that gauges which governments are seeking heightened user surveillance and content removal more than others. The company has just published its latest report, denoting the number of government requests received through the end of 2013. In its revamped design, the data shows a slight drop in removal requests from 3,846 in the first half of the year, to 3,105 over the last half of the year. Even a drop as slight as that one is interesting considering the mess Google is involved with around the world regarding content removal.
Europe’s “right to be forgotten” mandate aside, the search engine has been embroiled in controversy on a global scale for how it handles content publishing and removal. The right to be forgotten law made things worse for Google, and has been widely criticized by leaders in tech. The company has had to develop a process to handle tens of thousands of removal requests in Europe. But the figures published in its latest transparency report are drawn from only government requests, and the data shows that certain governments were more interested than others in content removal.
Google attributes the decrease in requests (the 3,105 requests were for 14,637 pieces of content) to a spike earlier in the year of removal requests from Turkey, which have since returned to lower levels. Trevor Callaghan, the director of Legal for Google explained in a blog post:
Meanwhile, the number of requests from Russia increased by 25 percent compared to the last reporting period. Requests from Thailand and Italy are on the rise as well. In the second half of 2013, the top three products for which governments requested removals were Blogger (1,066 requests), Search (841 requests) and YouTube (765 requests). In the second half of 2013, 38 percent of government removal requests cited defamation as a reason for removal, 16 percent cited obscenity or nudity, and 11 percent cited privacy or security.
The report notes that — since the inception of it in 2010 — more than one-third of all government removal requests have cited defamation as the reason for removal. And some examples of what Google decided to remove (or not) come from the U.S., Colombia, Brazil, India, and others. Removal requests that went unfulfilled did so for various reasons including incomplete URLs provided, failure to go through proper legal channels, and — in the case of a request from the Colombian National Police to remove a blog for accusations of corruption in their high command — “reasons of public interest”.
Whatever the reasons, Google will forever be handling content removal issues, whether it be a request from an individual user, or a request from a government. But so long as the company publishes a report like this one, users can get a smidgen of insight into just what it is handling on the whole.