How often does your government ask Google to keep quiet?

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google has launched a new tool allowing users to see how often their government asks it to remove data.

The move follows yesterday's statement by the company that its services are censored in a quarter of the countries in which it operates.

The new government requests tool  currently shows the number of requests received between July 1 and December 31, 2009. Brazil heads the list, with 291, followed by Germany with 188, India with 142 and the US with 123.

Most countries made fewer than ten requests. China, for obvious reasons, sits at the bottom of the list next to a great big question mark.

The company says the list doesn't include the removal of child pornography or of copyrighted material from YouTube, as it does this anyway.

Also listed are the number of data requests made by each country - requests for personal information about users, generally for criminal investigations. Here, again, Brazil leads, with 3,663 requests, followed by the US with 3,580 and the UK with 1,166.

Google warns that the figures aren't entirely accurate, especially for those countries with a low number of requests. Not can it give figures for how many requests were actually complied with.

"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," says the company.

"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."

But, says Google, it hopes to work out in future how to categorize and quantify these requests in a more helpful way.