It's that time of year again, boys and ghouls. It's time for Google's semi-annual data dump, revealing some clues about how various governments around the world try to get content yanked off the Internet. The so-called Transparency report provides somewhat granular information about government takedown requests of all kinds.
To be sure, some of these takedown requests — which are up by a record amount yet again — are probably dodgy. A lot of them have to do with local laws, though, while others fall into a larger narrative, like those connected to the Innocence of Muslims video. Apparently, Google is still dealing with the fallout from that mess, but I'll get back to that in a second.
Let's get specific. Or rather, let's let the official Google public policy blog get specific. "From July to December 2012, we received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content—an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that we received during the first half of 2012," reads the post about the latest transparency report. Then comes saucy part: "As we’ve gathered and released more data over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown."
Time to break out the tin foil hats? Not quite. There are a lot of different reasons for the spike in takedown requests. Google identifies Brazil for having submitted the most takedown requests: 697. This isn't a random crackdown on citizens, though. Last year was an election year in Brazil, where it's illegal to say defamatory things that offend your opponent, so you can be sure some of the 640 court orders Google received were related to that.
One other culprit — and we should've seen this one coming — is Russia. Last year was the year that Putin's cronies imposed a law that enabled the government to take sites off of the Internet if it deemed them to be inappropriate. The law was ostensibly written to protect children, but many digital rights advocates said that the Russian government was simply trying to muzzle its citizens. Regardless of the reasoning the law is very much in effect. After a record of only six takedown requests in the first half of 2012, Russia submitted 114 requests in the second half of the year after the law had taken effect.
This brings us back to the Innocence of Muslims video. That riot-starting little piece of content from last year gave Google all kinds of grief, since Google owns YouTube where the video was posted. Despite widespread outrage, Google refused to take down the video that instigated violent protests in Muslim communities around the world.
The controversy, of course, spilled over into the United States where Terry Jones, the Koran-buring Florida man and media magnet, wanted to host a screening. Thankfully, he did not. Google says that it received a number of legal complains pointing out how the video violated local laws, as the Innocence of Muslim remains online for some to see. But it looks like it'll be a while before people completely give up on destroying it altogether.
Meanwhile, I can't wait until the next transparency report. It's always a good time to take a step back and get angry about government censorship on the Internet. Heck, next time, I might even try that tinfoil hat trick. You know, just to see how it feels.