Here’s something I didn’t think I’d ever say: Big up Google!
I’ll own up straight away, I’m a yahoo user – it’s my search engine of choice and the host for my personal email account. So it was always going to take something special for Google to impress me.
Today Google released its bi-annual transparency report, and as an utter sucker for stats, it gripped me. The report paints a troubling rise in the number of requests it has received from governments to remove political content. But it doesn’t stop there, it then goes on to name and shame the culprits – and the big surprise is that western democracies not typically associated with censorship feature highly. You can have a scan of the big hitters in this easily digested overview of the stats from the Daily Mail.
So to the results. Now this is where I feel a bit like the host of Top of the Pops (I’m so showing my age with that reference!). Top of the charts: Brazil! The Brazil courts made 128 requests to Google to censor content. Second up, USA with 117, then it is Germany with 60. The UK ties with France in eighth place, with 12 requests each from their courts. In the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers requested to close users' Youtube accounts because they allegedly promoted terrorism - which Google agreed to do.
Although Google didn’t accede to every request (Thai authorities asked Google to remove 149 YouTube videos for allegedly insulting the monarchy, a violation of Thailand's lèse-majesté law), it did fulfil 70% of the requests. In the US, most requests related to alleged harassment of people on Google’s own video platform YouTube. The authorities asked for 187 pieces to be removed: Google complied with 42% of them.
All this follows on from Google’s decision two years ago to stop censoring search results on its platform in China. That move and their transparency reports are a good step forward in defending the rights of freedom of speech. You only have to look at countries like Syria, Egypt and Burma to realise how important the internet and YouTube can be in making a difference to human rights.
I personally hope that Google continues to use its data to defend and encourage freedom of speech and if that means naming and shaming the censors then so be it. It’s enough to make me think about a googlemail account…
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