Google’s latest Transparency Report is out, and guess what? It’s troubling! Google senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou breaks the bad news rather concisely in an official Google blog post: “Government surveillance is on the rise.”
She’s serious. In the period from January to June of 2012, the number of requests from governments to take down content skyrocketed by 71 percent. “The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011. But it’s spiked in this reporting period,” Chou explained. The good news is that most of the spike can be attributed to horrible government censorship in Turkey. (Note: this is only good news if you’re not Turkish or care little about the basic human right to free speech.) Google explained that the Turkish government requested hundreds of blog posts and YouTube videos be pulled—501 requests to be exact, up from 45 requests in the second half of 2011. Google complied with 45 percent of the requests. For the Goog, killing posts seems to be better business than risking getting blocked, like it was in China.
In the first half of 2012, Google recieved 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world related to about 34,614 accounts. During the same period, there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content.
The government takedown notices are only half the fun. Google also released the data about government requests for user data. Bad news again. The number of government requests for user data is up 15 percent over the last measuring period. There’s no good news this time around. It’s the United States that’s driving the increase in government user data requests. This year Uncle Sam made more than 8,000 of them, 25 percent more than last year. India and Brazil are in a distant second with 2,319 and 1,566 requests respectively.
It’s a little bit unclear what to make of all this. The majority of these kinds of requests come from court orders and police, so there’s an obvious law enforcement angle here. But the curious part of the story isn’t necessarily the specific reasons why the requests to remove content or obtain user data. It’s the steady rise over the past few years. Google can’t say what’s causing, but for the first time this year, they were pretty blunt about the rise in government surveillance. The transparency report is pretty transparent, but not that transparent, I guess.