Governments, even democracies, are not always fans of transparency. According to Google’s brand new transparency report, “government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown”, doubling since the second half of 2012 (1,054 requests vs. 2,285). Brazil took the gold medal of the censorship olympics, with 697 requests, while the United States took 2nd place, with 321 requests.
Google cites an aggressive anti-negative campaigning law for half of Brazil’s spike in censorship requests. Unlike America, Brazil attempts to clamp down on any campaigns that offend the “dignity” of candidates during an election. In the most extreme example, a Brazilian judge ordered the arrest of the head of Google’s Brazil operations and the complete shutdown of all of Google’s products unless it complied with an order to remove a YouTube video attacking a mayoral candidate.
In typical corporate diplomacy speak, Google writes that it is ” appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution.”
The United States, too, has its fair share of censorship requests. While Google can’t be specific about legal matters, it appears that at least some of the requests come from overly-reactive local authorities. “We received a request from a local government agency to remove a YouTube video that allegedly defamed a school administrator,” a Google spokesman explained to us.
In total, Google has complied with only 45% of requests, because they were either incomplete or violated Google’s Terms of Service (read: bald-faced attempts at censorship). In cases of clear abuse, defamation, or an overpowering government agency, Google does whip out its digital eraser.
Perhaps the most concerning trend comes from the increasingly authoritarian Russia, which recently began enforcing a broad new censorship law aimed blocking objectionable content, such as child porn and information promoting suicide. Nearly all Russia’s requests (107 of 114), cite this new law. The New York Times reports that, thus far, this law has been limited to truly objectionable content, but government watchdogs fear it may be exploited for political censorship.
You can read more about the transparency report here.