Government agencies ask Google to take down some sites
According to Google’s transparency report, government agencies have asked the company to take down over a million web pages. These pages include information on a wide range of things: political content, pornography (including child pornography), illegal downloads, and copyrighted material.
Requests for website take down often come in response to criminal investigations or court orders. However, there are many cases in which Google is asked by governments to take down content that is legal but seen as controversial or critical of the government itself. In such instances, the request is usually denied.
For example, since 2012 Google has received almost 2,000 requests from Turkey related to You Tube videos criticizing the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Turkish government sent court orders asking for these videos to be removed but they were denied and remain online today.
Most of the requests come from the US and India
To put it in perspective, here’s a breakdown of the number of requests by country. The United States ranks number one with 866,914 requests to remove URLs from Google in search results. India is second with 303,033 requests. The UK ranks third with 144,843 take down requests—that’s a lot of people who don’t want you to see what they’re up to on the internet! Other countries that account for large numbers of take down requests are France (107,113), Germany (79,703), Brazil (75,607), and Russia (73,280).
That’s quite a lot of content being taken down! Here’s some more information about why this is happening.
Sometimes, this is done in response to court orders
As one would expect, some of these take downs are in response to court orders. When a judge decides that a website is violating someone’s rights, he or she can order the site taken down.
When the government requests that content be removed from Google’s search results, the legislation under which it operates is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act was passed by Congress to address copyright infringement on the internet and outlines how it is permitted to remove allegedly infringing material from websites. It has been challenged several times on constitutional grounds for violating free speech, but has remained largely unchanged since its inception in 1998.
Google often partially complies with take down requests
In its Transparency Report, Google revealed that it has “rejected” a total of 1.5 million URLs between January and June 2018. The company also said that they had only partially complied with 20% of the requests during this period (2.4 million links).
In most cases, Google removes the content from search results but not from the source website itself; for example, if you are searching for a particular celebrity’s name, the search results may show links to websites that host his or her nude photos, but if someone files a complaint about those nude photos and gets them removed from Google’s index, then those same pages will no longer show up in search results for that person’s name.
However, sometimes when Google does remove links to certain content from its search engine index, it doesn’t actually get rid of that content completely — perhaps because it judges that there is some overriding public interest in seeing it.
Google is known for being a champion of free speech as well as a protector of internet users. However, it seems that governments around the world, particularly powerful ones that can regulate the Internet, disagree with this characterization. In that sense, Google has clear opponents in large governments around the world.