Technology & Science

Google getting more government requests to delete content, pass on user data

A request from Passport Canada to remove a YouTube video of a person peeing on his passport is just one of thousands Google has received from government agencies around the world seeking to take down content from its websites or obtain information about its users.
Google homepage logos on a wall at the Google campus near Venice Beach in Los Angeles. The company's latest transparency report suggests governments are increasingly trying to have content removed from Google-owned websites or to force the company to turn over information about the people who use those sites. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Governments around the world are stepping up their efforts to get Google to remove content from YouTube and its other popular websites and provide information about its users, the company's most recent transparency report suggests.

The U.S. made the most requests of any government in the period from July to December 2011 for information about users of websites owned by Google Inc.

The company, which owns the Google search engine as well as popular websites such as YouTube, Gmail and various microblogging and social networking sites, received 6,321 requests from U.S. government agencies and courts for user data related to 12,243 accounts in the six-month reporting period. Google says it complied with 93 per cent of the requests.

India had the second-highest number of requests for user data, with 2,207 requests related to 3,427 accounts, 66 per cent of which were complied with.

In its regular transparency reports, issued every six months, Google tracks requests from governments and copyright holders asking for user data or the removal of certain content from its sites.

The requests are made on the basis of everything from defamation claims, to allegations that the content violates local laws or constitutes hate speech or pornography.

Overall, Google received more than 19,000 requests for removal of content or demands for user data from government authorities during the most recent reporting period, compared to about 17,000 in the previous six months.

One of the more bizarre came from Passport Canada, which asked Google to remove a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet. Google turned down the request.

Canada made relatively few attempts to request user data or get Google to remove content. It made 19 requests for the removal of a total of 162 items, and Google complied with 63 per cent of those requests. Canadian authorities made 41 requests for information about 49 user accounts, only 24 of which were complied with.

Brazil's Orkut site riles electoral authorities

Brazil was the most active when it came to filing requests for removal of content on Google sites, with 194 requests for the removal of 554 items. Google complied 54 per cent of the time.

Many of Brazil's requests related to Orkut , a popular social networking site owned by Google. Four profiles had to be removed from the site because they violated electoral rules on political campaigning.

The U.S. issued 187 requests for the removal of a total of 6,192 items, and Google complied in 42 per cent of the cases.

In a summary of trends, Google said the number of content removal requests by U.S. authorities had increased by 103 per cent since the January-June 2011 reporting period. It cited one example in which a local law enforcement agency asked the company to remove 1,400 YouTube videos for alleged harassment.

Google did not comply in that case, but when the British Association of Police Officers asked it to remove five user accounts that allegedly promoted terrorism, it did so, saying the approximately 640 videos associated with the accounts violated the site's community guidelines.

It had no choice but to comply in the case of several requests from Thai authorities to remove 149 YouTube videos that they alleged insulted the Thai monarchy. Under Thailand's strict lèse-majesté laws insults against the monarchy are prohibited, although the Thai authorities have been accused of applying the laws more broadly in order to curb free speech and thwart the political opponents.

Google said it restricted 70 per cent of the videos in question from being viewed in Thailand.