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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Government Requests to Remove Material From Web Rise, Google Reports

A lot of attention was given last year to a YouTube video that insulted Islam and led authorities in several countries to press Google, which owns YouTube, to remove the video from the site.

Those requests represented a small fraction of the total requests to Google to remove items from its sites. All told, in the second half of 2012, the company said it received 2,285 requests from government authorities to remove material, including videos, blog posts and links posted to the company social networking account, called Google Plus. That figure is more than 25 percent higher than in the first half of 2012.

The latest transparency report from the company, released on Thursday, is a snapshot of how nerve-racking the Internet can be for governments worldwide, including democratic regimes.

Brazil, for instance, sent Google more than three requests a day on average during the period covered by the report. Most of those were about posts that insulted a political figure, in violation of Brazil’s recent electoral code, which prohibits defaming or offending political candidates. Google said it had obeyed 35 of those court orders and was appealing the rest.

British police asked YouTube to take down a picture of an officer depicted in a “racist uniform.” Google refused.

Indian authorities sought to persuade Google to take down maps that depicted a disputed border in the province of Kashmir. They didn’t succeed. India also pressed Google to remove dozens of videos and a blog post during a bout of deadly ethnic violence against the people of its Northeastern region. Government authorities cited national laws intended to maintain public order. Google said it complied with some of those requests. In some cases it blocking videos inside India but did not remove them altogether from the Web.

American law enforcement agencies asked the company to remove three videos that they said defamed police officers and prosecutors. Google refused. In response to court orders, the company took down 771 items from Google Groups that the company had concluded defamed a man and his family.

And from Argentina came a request to remove an image of the country’s president, showing her in a “compromising position,” as Google called it. The company said it “age-restricted” the image in accord with its own community guidelines.

The examples illustrate the negotiations that government agencies often have have with Web giants like Google, which maintain their own jurisprudence of sorts. Community guidelines, though, can be difficult to enforce consistently across the world.

A case in point: 20 countries, including the United States, asked Google to look into removing the “Innocence of Muslims” video that circulated on YouTube last fall, leading to deadly protests in some countries where Muslims were a majority. Google said the video did not violate the company’s community guidelines, though it removed the video from 10 countries, either because it broke national laws â€" like in the case of countries including India, Russia, and Singapore â€" or because of what the company called “difficult circumstances,” as in Libya, where the video prompted deadly protests, and a United States ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Google is not the only Internet company to contend with these requests. Facebook routinely receives take-down requests from users and government authorities. It stepped in last week, for instance, to remove a page that had emerged to track down a falsely identified suspect in the Boston bombing.

Facebook does not make take-down requests public. Twitter began doing so last year.

Google was an early adopter of transparency reports, and this has allowed it to identify trends over time. Since 2010,  more than a third of its content removal requests  were over reported defamation, by far the largest category of removal request, the company reported on Thursday, while pornography, national security and copyright violation accounted for a small fraction of the take-down requests.