Page last updated at 22:45 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 23:45 UK

Google reveals government data requests and censorship

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silcon Valley

Google's government requests tool
Google hopes the new tool will help "shine a light" on the issue

For the first time Google has released details about how often countries around the world ask it to hand over user data or to censor information.

Brazil tops the list with 3,663 data requests while the US made 3,580 and the UK came a distant third with 1,166.

Just last month the internet giant pulled its search engine out of China over online censorship issues.

Google said it cannot provide statistics on requests from China which are regarded as state secrets.

Brazil also made the highest number of requests to Google to remove content with 291 calls between July and December 2009. In second place was Germany with 188, India with 142 and the US with 123 requests.

The search giant has launched an online tool breaking down the figures which it hopes will be "just the first step toward increased transparency".

"The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations or for the removal of child pornography, " said David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer.

"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."

Google has been at the centre of a high profile battle with China over the issue of censorship. It stopped censoring results earlier this year after the Gmail accounts of users associated with human rights groups were hacked.

The company said the attacks had originated in China while the Chinese authorities denied any involvement.

Inspiration

Google's "government's request tool" was unveiled on the same day that Canada's privacy commissioner sent an open letter to the company regarding privacy issues.

Officials from 10 nations backed the complaint sent directly to Google boss Eric Schmidt.

The California based firm said any suggestion that their release was done to deflect from that news was "unrelated".

guy in a tshirt that says freedom
Few companies publish any sort of data about such requests

"We have been noticing a trend with these requests and working on this initiative for a long time, " Scott Rubin, a senior spokesman with the company told BBC News.

"This is really about our ongoing quest to make information accessible and we are hoping this will inspire other companies to share data and become part of the conversation people are having about the scope of these kinds of requests."

Google said it was disclosing the information "in the spirit" of principles laid out by the Global Network Initiative, a group that promotes freedom of expression online. Yahoo and Microsoft are also part of the organisation.

Google said that to date 40 governments censor information compared to just four in 2002.

"Google's numbers are not nearly as transparent as they could be," said Tom Krazit of technology news site Cnet.com.

"The tool doesn't break out the data for the number of times Google complied or refused requests for information on individuals. It does say how often - in general - it complies with takedown requests, but does not provide specifics."

Google said it is working to perfect the information and that "it will get better". The next release will be in six months' time.



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