Friday, April 23, 2010

Interesting New Service From Google

An article in Publishers Weekly alerted me to a new service being provided by Google.

The new feature summarizes requests to Google by governmental entities. Google provides a toggle switch so you can choose to look at either (1) Data requests (disclosure of user data) by country or (2) Removal requests of content by country. The information covers requests over a six-month period. The information is presented via a world map of countries.

Google explains the new service this way:
Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. The map shows the number of requests that we received between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, with certain limitations.

We know these numbers are imperfect and may not provide a complete picture of these government requests. For example, a single request may ask for the removal of more than one URL or for the disclosure of information for multiple users.
If you click on the box for a particular country, a pop-up reveals more information about that country. The additional information pertains only to the removal requests. The United States' details indicate that Google complied with 80.5% or 99 of the 123 requests to remove content from services. There were 70 requests related to YouTube (7 of which were by court order) and 27 requests to remove content from Google web searches (22 by court order).

On the other side of the table, Google makes a point of saying:
The “data requests” numbers reflect the number of requests we received about the users of our services and products from government agencies like local and federal police. They don’t indicate whether we complied with a request for data in any way.
Keep in mind these are governmental requests, not requests by individual users. And because Google regularly purges child pornography, the service does not include requests by governments to take down such material.

Another interesting fact in the FAQ was this:
[The data requests] statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters. We can’t always be sure that a request necessarily relates to a criminal investigation, however, so there are likely a small number of requests that fall outside of this category. For example, we would include in the statistics an emergency request from a government public safety agency seeking information to save the life of a person who is in peril even though there is not necessarily a criminal investigation involved.
When I clicked on the map, I expected China to top the list in both categories. To my surprise, China was not on the data request list at all and was represented on the bottom of the removal request list with a question mark. What was almost more intriguing was the fact that Brazil topped both lists with 291 removal requests and 3,663 data requests. This in comparison to the United States with 123 removal requests (making it #4 behind Germany and India) and 3,580 data requests (#2).

Go here to look at the map yourself.

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