Google identifies substantial increase in government-ordered online content removal

June 3, 2013

Google censoredGoogle has become an important monitor of global intervention by governments with respect to online content.  Google regularly reports data regarding the content takedown orders it has received from governments around the world.  Its report for the second half of calendar year 2012 indicates that government takedown requests increased by approximately 26 percent from the first half of that year.

In the first half of 2012, Google received orders from governments to remove 18,070 content pieces.  During the second half of 2012, it received takedown orders for 24,179 content pieces.  This amounts to approximately 130 content removal orders from governments each day.

Google also reports that the number of governments ordering content removal increased in 2012.  During that year, the company notes that it received content takedown orders from more governments than ever in the past.

The most common reason for the takedown orders is defamation.  Orders based on defamation allegations account for approximately one-third of all global government takedown actions.  The next most frequent reasons for content removal orders are, in descending order: privacy or security breaches, electoral law violations, criticism of government, and adult content.  Approximately half of all government takedown orders are based on either defamation or privacy/security concerns.

It is interesting to note that, in the United States we frequently have the impression that intellectual property (e.g., copyright and trademark) disputes are the most significant source of online content takedown orders.  The Google data indicate that global government takedown orders based on copyright and trademark issues, combined, account for far fewer of the government content removal orders than those based on claims of defamation, privacy or security breaches, or electoral and political law violations.

The Google report indicates that government takedown orders in India, Russia, and Brazil increased faster than in any other nations.  Much of that activity in Russia and Brazil was reportedly associated with elections and political activity.

As one of the world’s leading targets for government takedown orders, Google is in a special position for monitoring such government activity.  Google’s reports provide important information on government activities aimed at controlling or influencing online content.

The Google data also provide insight into the issues of greatest concern to governments around the world.  At present, it seems clear that governments are most concerned about online content which criticizes individuals (particularly government officials) or which poses a threat to privacy or national security.

By collecting and releasing government takedown order data, Google plays an important role in facilitating more transparency with regard to government efforts to monitor or control online content.  This is an extremely important international function, and the public interest is better served to the extent that Google and other online content services continue to provide public access to this information and to assist in the analysis of the trends in government takedown order activity.