New Google tool spotlights requests for user data

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK ( -- In what it calls a stand against online censorship, Google has created a tool that will let users know how often governments around the world ask the company to pass on user data or delete content from its search results and other services.

The search giant's new Government Requests tool also publicly tracks how many of the requests Google has honored.

So which government tops the chart? So far that's Brazil, which asked Google for user information 3,663 times and sent 291 content removal requests in the last six months of 2009. Google says it honored 83% of Brazil's removal requests.

The company's removal compliance rate varies widely. For example, it honored 94% of the 188 requests it got from Germany's government agencies but only 44% of the 16 requests Canada sent over.

The United States is hot on Brazil's tail, sending Google 3,580 requests for user data and 123 removal requests. More than half of those targeted content on Google's YouTube video site. Google says it complied with 81% of the U.S. requests.

Google said that it tries "to be as transparent as legally possible" to users when government agencies come looking for user data.

"Whenever we can, we notify users about requests that may affect them personally," the company said Tuesday in a posting on its official blog. "If we remove content in search results, we display a message to users. The numbers we are sharing today take this transparency a step further."

The tool's data, displayed on a world map, currently reflects requests received between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year. The company plans to update the data in six-month increments.

"We hope this tool will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe," Google said. "We also hope that this is just the first step toward increased transparency about these actions across the technology and communications industries."

Given the site's censorship battle with China, information about government requests from the nation are not -- for now -- included in the tool. Instead, a question mark appears next to the country's name. To top of page

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