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Google fights online censorship with new government requests tool

April 20, 2010 | 11:13 am

Google Inc. is taking another step to push back against a rising tide of censorship around the globe by making public how often government agencies request that it remove content from its services or supply information about its users, the Internet giant said Tuesday.

The vast majority of such requests are legitimate, such as removing child pornography, Google’s top lawyer David Drummond said in a blog post. But Google is betting that making the data about the requests more broadly available will lead to less censorship that is not legitimate.

Google is using data from July through December 2009 in rolling out the government requests tool. It will update the data in six-month increments. The tool breaks down the number of requests for removal of information by country and product and for user data by country. The data does not include requests to remove child pornography. It also does not include requests to remove copyrighted material from video-sharing site YouTube.

Google said the tool is another way in which it attempts to make its actions transparent to users. Google notifies users when it can about requests for their information. It also alerts users when it removes contents in search results. Drummond said Google hopes to provide more detail about its compliance with requests for users’ data “in the future.”

“We hope this tool will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe,” he said. “We also hope that this is just the first step toward increased transparency about these actions across the technology and communications industries.”

-- Jessica Guynn

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