Twice a year, Google releases aggregate data on requests it receives from governments across the world. It's part of a project they call "Transparency Report."
In its latest release, Google says the number of content removal requests it received from the United States increased by 70 percent from the previous six months. And the number of user data requests jumped by by 29 compared to the previous reporting period.
The statistics show that the United States continues to lead the world in snooping on Google users. US law enforcement made 5,950 separate requests for user data from 11,057 user accounts. Google complied with the requests 93 percent of the time. This was an almost 40 percent increase in the number of requests compared to the same period a year earlier. On a per capita basis, France (1,300 requests) and the United Kingdom (1,273 requests) were on par with the United States. Other nations were far behind.
Brazil and Germany were the leading nations for takedowns. Thanks in part to the popularity of Orkut in Brazil, Google fielded 224 requests to remove 689 items from Google services in Brazil. Germany received 125 requests to remove 2,405 items—1,585 of which were related to allegedly defamatory search results.
As Google explained in a blog post, this is also the first time Google is releasing the number of users or accounts involved in each request.
Google also released a short briefing for each country. Here's what they said about U.S. requests:
We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests.
And interestingly, it gives us a peek at how Google complies with local laws, even if they seem designed to stifle free speech. Here's Google's Thailand brief:
We received two requests from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology in Thailand to remove 225 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy in violation of Thailand's lèse-majesté law. We restricted Thai users from accessing 90% of the videos.
Derrick Harris over at GigaOm was thinking about what all of this means. Mainly, he writes, it puts companies like Google in an odd position to interpret laws that are too old to properly address these requests:
Content-removal requests come in before there has been any real legal proceeding, and platform providers such as Google are forced to play judge and jury. They must balance legal risks against free speech in deciding whether content should stay up or be removed.
When it comes to requests for user data, all that Google and companies of its ilk really can do is ensure that requests are within the bounds of the law and notify users of requests for their data. But in the United States, at least, the laws regarding web-user data are still fairly lax and don't require a search warrant in many instances. It's yet another example of the web and the law not being anywhere near on the same page.