Google’s Transparency Report: The Censoring Story around the Globe
Ryan Buddenhagen, June 21, 2012
We touch on censoring a good amount on this blog, and I have written specifically in relation to different actions taken by various national governments around the globe. Covering these incidences, you could say that censoring has picked up around the world, but it is hard to track exactly to what degree. Enter the Google Transparency Report which details the requests it receives, among other sources, from governments around the world to remove content that exists in their search engine results.
With this reporting, it is very easy to point directly at censorship requests to track their individual occurrences per country and establish regional and global trends. Thank you Google. But, it isn’t entirely an endeavor without self-interest from Google as by doing so, they illustrate the degree to which they comply with these requests showing that they privilege the freedom of information for their users.
Censorship rarely impacts search engine optimization and online marketing companies, but it is a matter certainly important to the industry as a whole as it squarely deals with search engine results, their management, and the role that search engines play in essentially being the broker of power in terms of what we see and don’t see online.
Censorship largely occurs on two fronts. The first is overt governmental censorship like that which is seen in China and other countries where sites are simply not allowed through the established firewall in order to limit access to information presumably detrimental to closed-society governments that yield absolute power – additionally there is the information that can be religiously offensive. So there is this overt censorship, then there is that which his problematic for various political reasons.
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That is the trend around the world. Governments are tightening the leash on what they want their citizens to be able to see online. Troubling? Yes, but it remains to be seen how far governments will go. It is a slippery slope, and this is why Google has not been fully cooperative in their fulfilling of governmental requests, so as to not create a precedent on how easy it is for governments to curtail the content their people see.
Looking at the trends, many governments made requests for the first time this year including Jordan, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Bolivia, and many others, while requests from India increased 49% from the last reporting period. The US had 187 requests from July to December of 2011, which is about a 100% increases from the 6 month span just before it – 42 were complied with. Overall, the compliance rate was 65% for court ordered requests, and 47% for those of a less formal nature.
To address all this, Google has set up teams to analyze requests and evaluate the way that they make take-down decisions. They are aware of the position they are in and are making a point do well by their principles in relation to the freedom of information. This again is a powerful position to be in and all fully realized. It only exemplifies their dominant position in search as the central player that reputable SEO and integrative marketing firms need to pay the closest amount of attention to. Other search engines like Bing and Yahoo are trying to gain market share, but it remains clear that Google remains the dominant force for optimizing search results and measuring the tightening of governments on potential harmful information.