Is Google’s Transparency Sufficient?

By: Chris Crum - September 23, 2010

Google has released what it is calling the Transparency Report, which shows the number of government inquiries for information about users and requests for Google to take down or censor content, as well as interactive traffic graphs that show information about traffic to Google around the world. 

Is Google transparent enough for you? Let us know. 

"Like all companies, Google’s services occasionally experience traffic disruptions," writes David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer. "Our new traffic tracking tool helps us and others track whether these interruptions are related to mechanical outages or are government-induced. Each traffic graph shows historic traffic patterns for a given country and service. Graphs are updated as data is collected, then normalized and scaled in units of 0 to 100."

"This new tool—which is global and includes China—will replace the Mainland China service availability chart, which showed product access for China alone," adds Drummond. "By showing outages, the traffic graphs visualize disruptions in the free flow of information, whether it’s a government blocking information or a cable being cut. For example, the graphs show that YouTube has been inaccessible in Iran since June 12, 2009, following the disputed presidential election."

Google Transparency Report

Google actually created a site for government inquiries about users and requests for the company to take down or censor content back in April. The data is now updated for the first six months of the year.  It also now includes the number of individual items asked to be removed, per country. 

The United States, by far, has made the largest number of data requests, with Brazil coming in second. The countries were flipped in terms of removal requests. According to Google’s numbers, from July 2009 to June 2010, the United States made 7,867 data requests and 251 removal requests. Brazil made  6,098 data requests and 689 removal requests. After these two countries, there is a pretty big drop off in the numbers. 

Without getting too specific, here is the info Google provides about the requests for the U.S.

Data and Removal requests for Google

Data and Removal requests for Google

Here’s the info for Brazil:

Data and Removal requests for Google

Data and Removal requests for Google

Google acknowledges that the data is not comprehensive. In an FAQ about the data, the company says, "While we have tried to report as accurate a number as possible, the statistics are not 100% comprehensive or accurate. For example, we have not included statistics for countries where we’ve received fewer than 30 requests for user data in criminal cases during the 6-month period. Where the numbers of requests are relatively low from a particular country, revealing the statistics could place important investigations at risk and interfere with public safety efforts of the authorities. For content removals requested by government agencies, we haven’t released specific numbers for those countries in which we received fewer than 10 requests. Many of those one-off requests may coincide with our own content policies, so when the numbers get small enough, they don’t necessarily reflect anything about the level of censorship in that country. Similarly, if a governmental agency used a web form to demand removal of content, we generally have no way of including those reports in our statistics."

The company also says that the stats don’t cover all categories of content removals. It doesn’t count child pornography removals, because Google does this on its own. It also doesn’t count government requests for removal of copyrighted content on YouTube. 

The stats also don’t cover all categories of data requests from governments. Google says they primarily cover requests in criminal matters. "We can’t always be sure that a request necessarily relates to a criminal investigation, however, so there are likely a small number of requests that fall outside of this category," the company says. "For example, we would include in the statistics an emergency request from a government public safety agency seeking information to save the life of a person who is in peril even though there is not necessarily a criminal investigation involved. As we improve our tracking, we may add more categories."

The content removal numbers also don’t include any data on government-mandated service blockages, but its traffic graphs do show when Google services have been inaccessible.

Google says it would like to be able to share more data, but "it’s not an easy matter." You can read the FAQ for more explanation on how Google does things. 

Are you pleased with Google’s level of transparency? Should they be doing more? Share your thoughts


Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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  • Adam Albrec

    I believe for this feature to be of any actual value, the general public should be able to input a name, word or other value and find out exactly who, requested it. A bit like a credit report, we all have a right to know who is looking for info on us, and the things and groups we belong to.

  • Michael Martinez

    This isn’t about transparency. This is Google striking back at governments, playing politics, trying to drum up public sentiment to support its business practices.

    It’s equivalent to the whole “net neutrality” lie, which allows companies like Google to shift the burden of responsibility to other people’s shoulders while they develop profitable applications.

    Google needs to comply with the laws of each country where it chooses to do business, acknowledging that those countries don’t all agree on how and why things are done.

    It’s not Google’s place to appoint itself the Morality Police of the Internet, a task they have assumed on more than one occasion.

    This is a company whose executives have been convicted in a court of law for criminal behavior. Their record for “transparency” is highly tarnished.

  • Hesus Mourillon

    Google is very powerfull, it has information of lots of people in the world, this information should be carefully guarded otherwise the worse that can happen is that the world loses trust in Google for collecting and spreading or selling peoples private information.Transparency is ok but there are also other privacy factors that need to be taken into account.

  • Guest

    No, Not at all, google is 100% nontransparent and non-customer friendly

  • Bob

    While Google says it won’t remove usenet groups content and leaves totally offensive spam in place intact, they routinely delete posts they think is spam such as group faqs that are posted on a regular basis. It is virtually impossible to contact google let alone open a dialogue. They used to offer a support forum where people could chase their tails, now even that’s been archived as if all questions and problems have been solved.

  • Frank

    Leaves out a lot, no mention of request from any government agencies,
    HA! what a farce

  • Guest

    Simple answer is NO.

    The way google or any other major search engine use their alogorith to select pages should be disclosed and publicly available. This will put all web owners an opportunity to compete for first page appearance.

    It is sad to note only a few companies always appear on google first page for any key word. They are not the best service providers. Most of them are business directories who carry mostly google advertisements. Probably popularity links has made these sites prominent than the contents.

    These deficiencies do not give any benefit for a customer. Many better service prividers are listed probably after first 10 pages, I wonder whether that is the quality these search engines are proud of.

    There is an adavantage to search engine by doing things the way they do now. One would be income they receive from adwards type campaigns. Results are in a mess they can make more and more money.

    If they need an answer, it would be to disclose all selection criteria to public and be fair by all participants. Then there is a good chance that customers will receive a quality information through internet. It is not hard, I can take you in the direction if required.

    • ForexAd

      Google is breaking its own rules as far as the search engines works – to promote its own customers and throws away these who do not pay.

  • Abhik

    This is nothing about so called transparency.
    After loosing it at several Asian countries, it’s their step to regain public sympathy in those countries. Or, just a try to grab attention of the government.

  • plumber irvine

    google is very amusing and great ,more help done to our daily life! LOL

  • Rajiv Ohri

    After serious consideration & in depth study of keywords / online resources that are definitely concerned to safety & security of general public & nation, so as to curtail any efforts to retrieve such dangerous information if so, available online, should be transparent to Govt. by Google. But also in this complete process, there needs to be high confidentiality & any kind of negligence at any end, should be accountable to tough & rigorous punishment, as misuse of this process can expose any person’s private life, his thoughts & planning etc.

    Loop holes or lacking strict vigilance in above process can extremely be harmful to all netizens for which Google and the Govt. will jointly be held responsible.

  • Guest

    What is transparent about this? What content is being removed?

    To really be transparent, we would know what is being removed.

  • Joblist Egypt

    Google is becoming more and more powerful these days, with all these information entrusted to it, I agree there is need for more responsibility and trust, a lot of issues needs to be addressed not just transparency.

  • Deke

    Google is manipulative, greedy, and definitely not transparent. Smart pricing? Clawbacks? Banning of domains/sites? It’s disgusting. It’s just that the world has not become aware of how dirty Google is, thus the great reputation perpetuates.

    When history looks back on Google they will see this was the most EVIL company that ever existed. They will make Microsoft look like the nice guys.

  • ForexAd

    Google should be considered by companies as dirty spammer. If Google was honest it would exclude itself from internet as the biggest spammer in the world. I started my adventure with internet long time before Google was borned. Internet did not need Google but Google needed internet. Actually Google is forcing webmasters, who want to see their pages on the top, to produce useless pages or get links in an unhonest manner. Google should be closed as a company who lost control over its own engine.

    • GeraldActivist

      Google has actually created cyber stalking, fake slander links, harassment if customers email for customer service, invasion of privacy threats that is considered to help terrorism. Why doesnt this rich, wealthy company have any customer service- because they are crooked criminals and need to be closed for good. Damage that Google has done to families and consumers is criminal.

      • WebTrader

        Very interesting point of view!

  • ebay

    With hummingbird Google bacame even less transparent.