Google reveals rise in censorship requests from governments

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Google has revealed a 'significant rise' in the number of requests it receives from governments to censor political material on the Internet.

Many of the requests lodged with Google came from western democracies, according to its latest Transparency Report.

Google stated that Spanish regulators requested the removal of 270 links to blogs and articles featuring criticism of public figures, while Polish regulators asked for an article featuring criticism of the Polish agency for enterprise development to be removed, as well as eight further results linking to the same article. On both occasions the search engine giant refused to comply with the requests.

However, there were some examples in which Google agreed to similar requests; the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) successfully got five YouTube accounts removed for allegedly promoting terrorism.

Google has previously been criticised by both British and American politicians for hosting videos featuring 'extremist propaganda' on YouTube - including sermons held by senior al-Qaeda cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a strike by US drones in 2011.

Al-Awlaki's online sermons reportedly inspired 21-year-old Roshonara Choudhry to attempt to assassinate MP Stephen Timms at a constituency surgery in 2010. Even after Choudhry was convicted at the Old Bailey in November 2010, a total of 5,000 videos featuring al-Awlaki remained available to view on YouTube.

Thai authorities were also successful with their requests to get material removed. They reported 149 videos which allegedly insulted the monarchy - a violation of the country's lèse-majesté . From those, Google agreed to remove 70%.

The report revealed that Google complied with an average of 65 per cent of court orders during the past six months, compared to just 47 per cent of informal requests.

Commenting on the results of the report in a blog post, Dorothy Chou, Google's senior policy analyst, wrote: "Unfortunately, what we've seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it's not.

"This is the fifth data set that we've released. Just like every other time, 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," she added.

Google has also revealed it receives more than a million requests to remove copyrighted content a month. Google's conscious this kind of plagiarism – where SEO content is stolen by sites looking to achieve similar rankings to competitors, or simply cut corners – is on the rise. It received 3.3m removal requests in 2011 – that's set to rise by four times as much during 2012.

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