Google: web censorship is on the increase

As Google continues to take over the world, it looks like more and more countries are starting to take note of the power of the World Wide Web.

The advertising outfit, which is starting to look like it actually owns the Internet, publishes six-monthly audits of censorship requests from from all over the world and the most recent figures, which cover the tumultuous period from July to December 2010, saw a number of new countries included in the take-down Top 21 for the first time.

Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Mexico, Panama, and Vietnam all made their debut with Google and its subsidiaries, including Youtube, having received 'a significant number of content removal requests' for the first time.

Of the countries already included in previous data, Japan provided the biggest leap in requests for censorship with an increase of 271 per cent.

The so-called 'Transparency Report', is itself heavily censored when it comes to the reasons behind requests initiated by government departments or other state organisations, offering little detail beyond the broad nature of the request. The data is also massively skewed by the fact that a single government request can cover multiple items.

Other countries also saw large spikes including Argentina (83 per cent), Australia (72 per cent - although Google blames the rise on change in the way it counts), Hong Kong (80 per cent), India (123 per cent), Israel (80 per cent), Italy (29 per cent), Poland (83 per cent) and Portugal (26 per cent).

Brazil saw an increase in activity as request to remove content related to political campaigns in the run-up to the general election went through the roof. In one court-ordered action alone 11,500 photos were removed from Picasa as they were allegedly scanned images from copyrighted books. Not something Google would ever condone, of course.

Google's fractious relationship with the Chinese authorities is well-documented but things seem to have quietened down since the company shut up shop on the Chinese mainland and headed off to Hong Kong. China considers Google take-down requests to be state secrets so there are no figures for previous periods. Since the move to Hong Kong the have been... erm, none.

Google received a number of requests from law enforcement agencies to take down blogs and videos which were less than complimentary about some high-ranking politicians and other officials, but Google says it declined to comply with these requests.

A video which simulated Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi being assassinated was removed under Google's own guidelines, no doubt because they didn't want to give people ideas.

South Korea asked for more than 32,000 items to be removed because they contained copies of Resident Registration Numbers (RRNs) which are used to keep an eye on what everyone in the country is doing online. Without an RRN, the Internet is pretty much a closed shop if you have a picture of Kim Jong-il on your kitchen wall.

Dear old Blighty also made a bit of a ripple in the report, with the Office of Fair Trading successfully requesting the removal more than 93,000 fraudulent ads which linked to scam web sites.

We suspect that the next set of numbers provided by Google, covering the period in which the Arab Uprising really took hold, will paint a very different picture.

You can see the numbers for yourself, and make of them what you will, here.