FAQ – Government requests directed to Google and YouTube


What do the numbers represent?

These numbers represent the number of requests we received from government entities for the removal of content or the disclosure of user data from July 1, 2009 – December 31, 2009. There are limits to what this data can tell us. Some requests seek the removal of multiple pieces of content, or seek data for more than one account. There may also be multiple requests that ask for the removal of the same piece of content, or data for the same account. Because of the complexity of these requests, the numbers we are sharing do not reflect the total amount of content that we are asked to remove, nor the total number of accounts subject to data disclosure requests by governmental agencies. Also, this initial report doesn’t indicate whether Google complied with or challenged any request for user information, although we do provide percentages about our compliance with requests to remove content. We haven’t yet found a way to provide more detail about our compliance with user data requests in a useful way, but we plan to in the future.

Is this data comprehensive?

No. While we have tried to report as accurate a number as possible, the statistics are not 100% comprehensive or accurate. For example, we have not included statistics for countries where we’ve received fewer than 30 requests for user data in criminal cases during the 6-month period. Where the numbers of requests are relatively low from a particular country, revealing the statistics could place important investigations at risk and interfere with public safety efforts of the authorities. For content removals requested by government agencies, we haven’t released specific numbers for those countries in which we received fewer than 10 requests. Many of those one-off requests may coincide with our own content policies, so when the numbers get small enough, they don’t necessarily reflect anything about the level of censorship in that country. Similarly, if a governmental agency used a web form to demand removal of content, we generally have no way of including those reports in our statistics.

What is the difference between removal requests and data requests?

Removal requests ask for removal of content from Google search results or from another Google product, including YouTube. For purposes of this report, data requests ask for information about Google user accounts or products.

Do your statistics cover all categories of content removals?

No. Our policies and systems are set up to identify and remove child pornography whenever we become aware of it, regardless of whether that request comes from the government. As a result, it’s difficult to accurately track which of those removals were requested by governments, and we haven’t included those statistics here. We counted requests for removal of all other types of content (e.g., alleged defamation, hate speech, impersonation). In addition, for YouTube, we have not included government requests for removal of copyrighted content. The vast majority of requests for removal of copyrighted material on YouTube are received from private parties; some may come from state or foreign governments, but that number is very low. Regardless, such requests are not reflected in these statistics.

Do your statistics cover all categories of data requests from governments?

No, the statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters. We can’t always be sure that a request necessarily relates to a criminal investigation, however, so there are likely a small number of requests that fall outside of this category. For example, we would include in the statistics an emergency request from a government public safety agency seeking information to save the life of a person who is in peril even though there is not necessarily a criminal investigation involved. As we improve our tracking, we may add more categories.

How is removal different from blocking services?

Some governments and government agencies choose to block specific services as a means of controlling access to content in their jurisdiction. The numbers we’ve reported do not include any data on service blockages. We are working on a separate tool to show you when Google services have been blocked by governments or government agencies.

How many of these requests did you comply with?

The “removal request” numbers represent the number of requests we have received, and the percentage we complied with in full or in part per country. The “data requests” numbers reflect the number of requests we received about the users of our services and products from government agencies like local and federal police. They don’t indicate whether we complied with a request for data in any way. When we receive a request for user information, we review it carefully and only provide information within the scope and authority of the request. We may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases.

We would like to be able to share more information, including how many times we disclosed data in response to these requests, but it’s not an easy matter. The requests we receive for user data come from a variety of government agencies with different legal authorities and different forms of requests. They don’t follow a standard format or necessarily seek the same kinds of information. Requests may ask for data about a number of different users or just one user. A single request may ask for several types of data but be valid only for one type and not for another; in those cases, we disclose only the information we believe we are legally required to share. Given all this complexity, we haven’t figured out yet how to categorize and quantify these requests in a way that adds meaningful transparency, but we plan to in the future.

Do you ever remove content that violates local law without a court order or government demand?

Yes. The statistics we report here do not include content removals that we regularly process every day across our products for violation of our content policies (for example, we do not permit hate speech in Blogger and other similar products) in response to user complaints. In many cases, those removals result in the takedown of material that violates local law, independent of any government demand or court order seeking such removal.

Where can I learn more about government requests for information and content removal?

There are several independent organizations that release regular reports about government requests for information and content removal, including Chilling Effects and the Open Net Initiative.

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Author: Chilleh Penguin

A frisky penguin.

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