In data released by Google in its Transparency Report the search engine giant shows just who has been finding out a little more about us as internet users. The Transparency Report is an annual publication that shows us who has been requesting user data and content removal from Google. It also shows what percentage Google has complied with these requests. It’s an interesting read, if not to see how the UK government fares against other European and global authorities. Requests can come from government agencies and courts for a number of reasons. Usually, these requests were for content removal for either security, defamation or privacy. According to Google, when it first began publishing the Transparency Report, there were 12,539 requests for user information. The half-yearly figure for 2012 is already at 20,939. User information requests have included 34,614 accounts. (Source) It’s important to distinguish between the two requests here, content removal and user details. Content takedowns have been going on for years and don’t pose all that much of a threat in the way they are apparently used in the UK. That is if you ignore a local police authority requesting the removal of published content criticising them. While there is a theoretical threat of government censorship, it isn’t a real one in our opinion. It is requests for user account details that’s the statistic to keep an eye on. In total there were 1,791 requests to take down 17,746 pieces of content for the first half of this year. Many of the UK takedown requests were linked to allegedly fraudulent Google Adwords campaigns and were requested by the Office of Fair Trading. User information requests for the first half of 2012 look like this:

  • United States – 7,969
  • India – 2,319
  • Brazil – 1,566
  • France – 1,546
  • Germany – 1,533
  • UK – 1,425

While it’s tempting to get out the soapbox and decry the government’s attempted censoring of the internet and desire to spy on us as users, let’s get a little perspective here. According to the Office of National Statistics, 19 million UK homes had an internet connection in 2011. Even if only a single user in each home used the internet, that’s still a lot of people. The request for the details of 1,425 (so far) of them, isn’t a big deal. The same for content takedown requests. Of the billions of websites out there in the ether, the request to remove 17,746 pieces of content is nothing. We agree that these increases are a trend we don’t want to see rising at the rate they are, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t anything to get hot under the collar about whatever the headlines tell you.

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