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US, Brazil lead Google's Top 10 censorship list; China off the chart

After government's criticized Google for disclosing too much private information, the company released country-by-country data on the number of government requests for user information and data removal.

By Correspondent / April 21, 2010

In this screen grab taken Tuesday, Google's new tool to show where it's facing the most government pressure to censor material and turn over personal information about its users is shown.

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China is hardly the world’s only Internet censor.

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While the Great Fire Wall is known to censor thousands of Web sites and searches on Google, many other governments have requested the California-based search giant remove content or hand over user data. According to information released April 20, which excludes China and several other countries, Brazil and the US lead the world in the number of requests for user data and for the removal of content.

In an effort to bring transparency to censorship, and apparently also to push back against critics, Google’s new interactive world map shows country-by-country data requests and removal requests received between July 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2009.

“Government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content,” Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote on the official Google blog.

The map measures requests for removal of data such as alleged defamation, hate speech, and impersonation. It also shows Google’s compliance rate on removal requests and a breakdown of which Google-owned sites, like Blogger, Adwords, and YouTube, have contained the most removed information. In the US, for instance, Google received 123 requests to remove material from its services during the last half of 2009 and complied with 80 percent of them.

Information on China’s censorship is unavailable and regarded as a state secret and countries associated with internet censorship—such as Vietnam and Cuba—do not appear because the analysis did not track the use of filters to block online content.

“There are limits to what this data can tell us,” Google wrote in an FAQ, explaining that some requests pertain to multiple pieces of content, or multiple requests might pertain to the same piece of content. The data does not include government requests for removal of copyrighted content or for the removal of pornography, which Google says it censors on its own. The report also doesn’t indicate whether Google complied with or challenged any requests.

But it does throw a spotlight on governments when Google itself has come under fire for privacy breaches.

On April 19, Canada’s privacy commissioner sent an open letter to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, signed by the privacy heads of nine other countries (France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom) to express their concern about privacy issues related to Google Buzz and Google Street View.

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