Government Increasingly Asking Google for User Data

U.S. government increasingly asked for user data, content removal from Google.

The Google rumors come during a turbulent year for businesses attached to the current cable TV business model.

The Google rumors come during a turbulent year for businesses attached to the current cable TV business model.

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Government entities are increasingly asking Google for user information to use in crime prosecution, according to the company's recently-released transparency report.

User-data requests by local, state, and federal government entities increased from 8,888 in 2010 to 12,271 in 2011, a 38 percent jump. The 2011 requests accounted for more than 23,000 user accounts, and Google complied on 93 percent of the requests.

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According to the company, "the increase isn't surprising, since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users." The United States made far more requests for user data than any other country, with India coming in second with just a third of the U.S.'s requests.

Government requests for content removal from Google-owned websites also increased, according to the report.

Between July and December 2010, the government made 54 content removal requests, mostly on Google search results and the company's Blogger site—a year later, the government made 187 requests, a 54-percent jump.

According to the company, it complied with nearly 90 percent of the requests in the second half of 2010, last year it complied with only 42 percent. The number of items contained in the requests jumped from 2,099 in 2010 to 6,949 in 2011, a 231 percent increase.

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According to Google, the requests represent an attempt from "some governments and government agencies … to block specific services as a means of controlling access to content in their jurisdiction."

In a blog post published Sunday, the company spoke out against the increased number of takedown requests.

"What we've seen over the past couple years has been troubling," Dorothy Chou, senior policy analyst for the company, wrote. "Just like every time before, we've been asked to take down political speech. It's alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship."

In the second half of 2011, the government requested to remove content deemed vital to national security in one instance, for privacy and security in 58 instances, and defamation in 58 instances. Google says that a local law enforcement agency asked the company to remove 1,400 YouTube videos it said were harassing—Google didn't comply with the request. The company was also asked by local law enforcement to remove videos showing alleged police brutality, but did not comply with the request. In another instance, Google only removed 25 percent of 218 search results that a court said linked to defamatory websites.

Calls to multiple federal government agencies weren't immediately returned.

The United States wasn't the only country upset with some content on Google—in 2011, Brazil made 242 court-ordered content removal requests. China only made three content removal requests in 2011, but Google says they have "reason to believe that the Chinese government has prohibited us from full disclosure."

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com