Google gives user data to US government

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The US government asks Google for user data more than twice as often as any other, says Google, and is more likely to get its own way.

Over the second half of last year, the US made 4,601 requests, followed by Brazil with 1,804 and India with 1,699. The figures releate to all Google services, including YouTube videos, Gmail, Blogger blog posts and search results.

And in its Transparency Report, Google says it complied with US requests in 94 percent of cases, compared with 90 percent for Japan, 88 percent for Singapore and 81 percent for Australia.

"Our goal is to provide our users access to information and to protect the privacy of our users. Whenever we receive a request, we first check to make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying," says the company's Matt Braithwaite.

"When possible, we notify affected users about requests for user data that may affect them. And, if we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it."

The high figure for Brazil doesn't neccessarily indicate a particularly snooping government: Google's social networking site, Orkut, is particularly popular there, meaning that there's simply a a large amount of personal information floating about. There were also a number of orders relating to political campaigns.

In the past, Google hasn't released figures for takedown requests from the Chinese government, as these were regarded as state secrets. With the introduction in June last year of the new Google landing page  directing users to the Hong Kong site, the company now feels it can give the number - and it's zero. Presumably China feels it can do all the snooping it needs without Google's help.

Some countries, such as India and Croatia, made significant numbers of data requests for the first time.

Most US requests relate to concerns over defamation, with one set of six court orders resulting in the removal of 1,110 items from Google Groups which defamed a man and his family.