Google issues data on handover of user data

Jeremy Phillips

The BBC reports that, for the first time, Google has released details about how often countries around the world ask it to hand over user data or to censor information. According to the article,

“Brazil tops the list with 3,663 data requests while the US made 3,580 and the UK came a distant third with 1,166. … Google said it cannot provide statistics on requests from China which are regarded as state secrets.

… The search giant has launched an online tool breaking down the figures which it hopes will be “just the first step toward increased transparency”.

“The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations or for the removal of child pornography, ” said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer.

” We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship. Unless companies, governments and individuals do something, the internet we know is likely to become ever more restricted – taking choice and control away from users and putting more power in the hands of those who would limit access to information.”

… Google’s “government’s request tool” was unveiled on the same day that Canada’s privacy commissioner sent an open letter to the company regarding privacy issues.
Officials from 10 nations backed the complaint sent directly to Google boss Eric Schmidt. The California based firm said any suggestion that their release was done to deflect from that news was “unrelated”.

Few companies publish any sort of data about such requests.

“We have been noticing a trend with these requests and working on this initiative for a long time, ” Scott Rubin, a senior spokesman with the company told BBC News.
“This is really about our ongoing quest to make information accessible and we are hoping this will inspire other companies to share data and become part of the conversation people are having about the scope of these kinds of requests.”

Google said it was disclosing the information “in the spirit” of principles laid out by the Global Network Initiative, a group that promotes freedom of expression online. …
“Google’s numbers are not nearly as transparent as they could be,” said Tom Krazit of technology news site Cnet.com.

“The tool doesn’t break out the data for the number of times Google complied or refused requests for information on individuals. It does say how often – in general – it complies with takedown requests, but does not provide specifics.”

Google said it is working to perfect the information and that “it will get better”. The next release will be in six months’ time”.

Datonomy will watch for further developments, which will quite possibly demonstrate the inadequacy of existing data protection laws at national level to control the activities of an internet-based organisation such as Google which operates globally.

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