Google Reveals Government Censorship Requests With New Mapping Tool

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Government requests: Google rolled out a novel little mapping tool on Tuesday that allows users to see the number of times various nations' governments have submitted requests to have content removed from search results that they deemed inappropriate for local public consumption. Google launched a nifty little mapping tool on Tuesday that allows users to see the number of times various nations' governments have submitted requests to have content removed from search results that they deemed inappropriate for local public consumption.

"Government Requests" was rolled out, in the words of Google, to "give citizens insight into [the] kinds of actions taken by their governments." It tracks the number of government requests received between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year, as well as the number of requests from governments for user data.

Google says that it doesn't always comply with the requests and that at the moment it hasn't figured out a way to "provide more detail about our compliance with user data requests in a useful way."

According to Google, the Brazilian government has submitted more censorship requests than any other country -- 291 during the six-month period -- and it also submitted more requests for user data -- 3,663 -- than any other nation. The U.S. ranks second for data requests with 3,580, while Germany ranks second for censorship requests, having submitted 188 requests for Google to remove content from search results.

China Conspicuously Missing

One country that is conspicuously missing from both lists is China. It's been several months since Google threatened to withdraw from China and almost a month since it began to shutter its local search engine there and started directing mainland Chinese search requests to its Hong Kong-based site. Back in January, the company said it couldn't comply with China's censorship laws.

It's probably not a coincidence that Google doesn't disclose the number of times the Chinese government has requested the company remove data from its search results. If users click on the China tab on the map, they see the message that "Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time." (It seems odd that Google would choose to comply with China's wishes now, given that it has basically already closed its local business there.)

The government requests map was probably also not-so-coincidentally launched a day after a variety of foreign privacy commissioners chastised Google for not doing more to protect user data. Ironically, nearly every nation represented in the letter (including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K.) submitted requests for user data over the six-month period tracked by Google.

The notable exception is New Zealand. Its privacy commissioner signed the letter, but the government did not, by Google's reckoning, submit any requests for access to user data.
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