Google attempts to open up on government censorship -- updated

New tool lists number of information requests and removals government agencies make to the search giant

Google has gone on the offensive in its battle against Internet censorship, launching a tool which it says will achieve greater transparency on its dealings with Governments and will lead to less Internet censorship.

The Government Requests tool aims to give Google users more information about the requests for user data or content removal it receives from government agencies.

The tool, in the form of a map, shows the number of requests that we received between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009. Google intends to update the data in six monthly increments.

Based on the current data, the tool ranks Australia 10th – with 17 requests - for the highest number of removal requests received. Brazil leads with 291 requests, followed by the Germany at 188 and India at 142. China is not ranked, but instead recieves a question mark. No explanation is provided for this.

Australia ranks ninth – with 155 requests - for data requests. Brazil leads with 3663, closely followed by the US at 3580 and the UK at 1166.

Google says that 52.9 per cent of the removal requests fully or partially complied with. One request related to a blogger, one to Google Earth, one to its web search and 14 to YouTube.

Commenting in an official Google blog on the new tool, David Drummond, senior vice president, corporate development and chief legal office said government censorship of the web was growing rapidly, and that the Internet giant regularly received demands from government agencies to remove content from its services and provide information for legal investigations.

“However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available,” he wrote. “We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship.”

Drummond also claimed the company was already as transparent as was legally possible with regard to data requests, and frequently notified users about requests that affected them personally.

“If we remove content in search results, we display a message to users,” he wrote. “The numbers we are sharing today take this transparency a step further and reflect the total number of requests we have received broken down by jurisdiction.

“We are also sharing the number of these content removal requests that we do not comply with, and while we cannot yet provide more detail about our compliance with user data requests in a useful way, we intend to do so in the future.”

Seeking to explain the absence of any data on the requests from China, a Google Australia spokesperson said this was due to official secrecy.

"Chinese officials consider censorship demands to be state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time," the spokesperson said.

Commenting on the huge number of Brazillian requests, the spokesperson said this was related to the popular orkut social networking site in the country.

"Because there can be more content associated with social networking sites, we receive more requests," the spokesperson said.

Recently Google said that its services were blocked or censored to some degree in one-fourth of the countries where it operates.

The company has a long way to go on the way it handles its own user data, with data protection commissioners from 10 countries telling the company that they need to stop "willfully" disregarding privacy laws in many countries when rolling out new products or privacy policies, or they may face fines and other sanctions.

In February Google Buzz has come under heavy criticism from the Australian Privacy Foundation, which believed the new social networking tool had major privacy flaws.

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