Google has received a record number of requests from 26 developed countries to reveal private information about internet users.
Private information on Google users was demanded by governments or police more than 14,000 times in 26 developed countries in the second half of last year, according to figures released for the first time by the internet group yesterday.
In an effort to highlight online censorship, Google disclosed that it had received more requests from the United States than anywhere else, and that it complied with anywhere from three-quarters to more than 90% of the requests, depending on which country they were made in.
Google received a record 4,601 requests from the US to disclose internet users’ private data in the six months to December, up 28% year-on-year. The California-based company said it fully or partially complied with 94% of user data orders from the US, and with 72% of those from the UK.
According to Google, the UK made 1,162 user data requests in the second half of last year, ranking it the fourth in terms of requests , behind the US, Brazil and India. Google began releasing its half-yearly Transparency Report in April 2010 as a way to highlight state censorship of the internet.
William Echikson, Google’s head of free expression for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, also said there was “more and more” pressure from European governments to remove content. “We are seeing governments around the world crackdown on the internet, and there is more and more pressure from inside Europe – it’s not just on us but all internet companies,” he told the Guardian.
Google products are banned or partially banned in 25 countries, Echikson pointed out. He said the Arab spring uprising, in which Egypt and Tunisia clamped down on the internet, has “raised the profile” of online censorship, but internet companies need to do more to combat the trend.
Google said it complied with a request to block access to 43 YouTube videos in Thailand because they were breaking that country’s law by “mocking or criticising” the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The figures show that Brazil still leads the way in requesting that Google removes content from its services, with 263 orders, ahead of South Korea, Germany, Libya and India. The UK’s Office of Fair Trading requested the removal of 93,360 fraudulent Google Adwords linked to scams over the period. The majority of content removal requests from the US arise from court orders over defamation. According to the figures, six US court orders resulted in the removal of 1,110 items from the Google Groups forums over the defamation of a man and his family.
Google said it had received no content removal requests from Chinese authorities in the latter part of 2010. The search engine began redirecting Chinese users to its uncensored Hong Kong site in June 2010 amid allegations of state spying. Hong Kong increased its demands for user data by 80% in the six-month period, to 90; Google complied with 59%.