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Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Google reports rise in Western governments censoring criticism


Search engine's Transparency Report notes an increase in requests for removal of content critical of governments.

The United States leads in censorship requests. 

LAST UPDATED AT 17:21 ON Mon 18 Jun 2012

GOOGLE has reported a “troubling” rise in government censorship over the last six months with a number of western states applying to have information taken down from the internet, according to a biannual study released yesterday.

The search giant's most recent Transparency Report, dated July – December 2011, placed the US as the most prolific censor, noting the country had applied to have content removed from blogs, videos and websites in over 2,300 instances - a 103 per cent rise in requests from the previous six months.

Britain filed the fifth most applications out of the 62 countries listed, most of which targeted YouTube videos it said were inciting terrorism. The only countries to make more requests than Britain were Indonesia, Spain, South Korea and the US.

A senior analyst for Google called the results “alarming”.

Dorothy Chou wrote on the company’s blog: "It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect – western democracies not typically associated with censorship."

Yet according to Chou, the most “troubling” element of censorship requests has been a trend for “political demands” for posts which criticise governments to be taken down.

Spain appeared to be one such country, registering 270 requests against articles and blog posts that criticised the government and senior politicians, although Google ignored the country’s demands, reports The Guardian.

Italy balked at a blog post satirising the ex-president Silvio Berlusconi’s lifestyle, but again, a request to have the content purged was denied by the search engine.

Meanwhile, the German government tried to block 900 sites that criticised them, reports The Next Web.

Highlighting the rise in attempts by governments to burnish their online images, Chou noted that Google had been aware in the past of an attempt to censor the internet but had hoped a restrictive attitude would ease off with time.

“When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it's not,” said Chou.

However, freedom of expression seems to be safe in Google's hands. A Canadian request for the removal of a video of a man urinating onto his passport and flushing the document down the toilet was one of the stranger requests ignored by Google. · 

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