Google Transparency Report: See What the Government Wants to See About You


According to Google's semi-annual Transparency Report, governments are prying into citizens' internet usage and requesting content removal more than ever before. Google's report divulges a huge amount of data, but these two graphs from the Guardian's writeup display the aggregate number of requests for information on users and content takedown:


The data predictably reveals that, as internet access has increased, so have requests by governments worldwide for users' identities and for content removal. 81% of the record-high 262 requests for takedown from the United States in the second half of 2012 came from court orders, 49% for the reason listed as "Defamation." Dig into the explanations, and it appears that many of the requests were made by police departments and local school administrations seeking to remove content deemed defamatory to local figures. Google proudly states that most of the takedown requests were denied, or at least resisted until legal compulsion.

For those of us outside the tin-foil haberdashery, Google's commitment to transparency and neutrality is commendable. Presumably this type of disclosure is not legally required (as those tin-foilers will tell you, government is the last body who wants these numbers available) and yet they've kept assiduous track of the data for the past three years.

The report is an interesting resource for a question that has until now been unanswerable: what do governments want to know about their citizens? Never before has humankind had as central a node for private activity as Google, and as we have learned many times over, they keep track of all of it. It's nice to see that though AdWords may know us better than we know ourselves, they appear to be keeping the law away from the same.