Google’s Transparency Report Raises Questions About Which Nations Censor


Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) latest update for its Transparency Report includes some startling data about the rise in censorship around the world, pointing to a rise in governments requesting takedowns of political content.

India in particular stood out, as Google notes that it saw a 49 percent increase in content removal requests since its last report, the majority of requests being for YouTube takedowns (133 items), the primary reason cited being defamation. There were 101 government requests spanning 255 content ‘items’ in total, also including 49 items on Blogger and 40 items on Orkut. You can see in the chart below that ‘defamation’ was the reason for more than half of the requests.

[Download image version of this chart]

Google’s senior policy analyst Dorothy Chou noted in a blog post:

[J]ust like every other [data set we released] before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. 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.

It’s also important to note that just as the internet is growing and changing, so too is how governments around the world react to it. Our notions about who censors and who doesn’t will need to be continually re-examined, which is why Google’s recurring reports are valuable. As we saw in a recent study from Harvard, while China is still very aggressive in its censorship, it is surprisingly not more likely to censor voices which criticize it. Speaking as someone who follows China reasonably closely, that came as a big surprise to me [1].

Similarly, we may also have to question how we perceive activists who speak out around the world. Do we have a knee-jerk reaction to support a Chinese online activist just because he or she opposes a traditionally oppressive government censors that we view as unjust? A recent article over on Dissident Voice pointed out a Western dissident like Julian Assange “does not enjoy the soft power of being a Chinese one.” Again, we may have to continually rethink how we see countries with regards to their tolerance of online freedoms, as well as the netizens who live in those countries.

  1. Note that Google’s report does not contain any data for China, as there have been no removal requests for the time period covered. The last data for China in Google’s report was for the first half of 2011 when it saw three requests to remove 121 items.  ↩

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