Sunday, 25th April 2010
Google recently published a list of governments' requests to remove data from the web and to get information about users. Media coverage has lead with predictable headlines about “government censorship”, but as with any statistics, it’s important to understand what the data covers, how it is gathered and to provide some context.
Like other internet companies, Google receives requests from governments for the removal of content or the disclosure of user data. Last week Google released data on the number of requests governments made, covering the period from 1 July 2009 to 31 December 2009 (http://digbig.com/5bbmew).
Brazil is top of the list by number of data requests – asking Google for information about user accounts or products – followed by the US and the UK. Brazil also made the highest number of requests to Google to remove content – followed by Germany, India and the US. However, data about China cannot be disclosed as Chinese officials consider it state secrets.
The FAQ page at http://digbig.com/5bbmex gives further detail, outlining for example, that “some requests seek the removal of multiple pieces of content, or seek data for more than one account”. As with any statistics, users would be wise to understand exactly what the data represents.
There is excellent coverage of Google’s list in a Guardian article at http://digbig.com/5bbmey, which provides useful context by relating the data to population and internet penetration data, thus revealing a different picture. For example, Armenia then takes over Brazil in terms of requests for removal of content. The article has a link to the data in spreadsheet format for ease of manipulation.
The raw Google data, and links to other statistics, can show a certain picture but has to be put into further context with more information about each country. However, that is for each researcher to judge according to individual requirement. Let’s also not forget that the Google figures will be covering a large amount of requests related to law enforcement. In order to make full judgements we need more detail but this is an interesting start!
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