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Google ‘outs’ countries that demand data on web users

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-04-21

Google is once again on a mission to prove that it observes its own maxim "don’t be evil" by launching a tool that shows which countries have made requests for user data and for data to be filtered out of searches.

Internet search giant Google has launched an online tool which allows web users to see which countries have asked the company to hand over user data and to block access to specific sites.

The Government Requests Tool is Google’s latest effort to demonstrate its support for an uncensored Internet.

Its publication follows a highly publicized spat with China, where Google claims it had been under unacceptable pressure to censor web content.

Google said the number of governments censoring the Internet has risen from about four in 2002 to more than 40.

“The data about these activities historically has not been broadly available,” wrote David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, in a blog post about the new tool. “We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship.”

Brazil and the United States top the list

Brazil, one of the fastest-growing economies in the developing world, ranks highest in the number of requests to filter content (291 requests) and to hand over user data (3,663 requests).

The United States came a close second, with 3,580 requests for user data, while the United Kingdom was third, with 1,166.

In terms of removing information, Germany came second with 188 requests, while India and the United States ranked third and fourth respectively, with 142 and 123.

As for China, Google said it was unable to disclose information since Chinese authorities consider censorship demands to be state secrets.

Google cautioned that despite the seemingly high figures, many of the requests were legitimate.

“The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations,” wrote Drummond.

The tool provides information from the second half of 2009. The company has promised to update it every six months.

Outright blocking and filtering of sites

The tool’s launch came on the same day that officials from 10 nations sent a letter to Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, demanding better protection of people’s privacy.

The letter was signed by data protection officials from Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain.

“We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world's citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications,” the letter stated.

The criticism comes particularly after Google’s Gmail launched its Buzz social network in February 2010, which reportedly has 146 million users worldwide.

Some Gmail users complained that they were automatically signed up without consent to a network of “followers” based on those with whom they communicated with the most using Google's email and online chat services.

Date created : 2010-04-21

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