Since the last few years, governments worldwide have been asking Google to take down content from its services and also put in place controls that prevent violations. The Indian government has also been sending Content Removal Requests (CRR) to Google which are outlined in Google’s latest Transparency Report.
From a mere 30 CRRs between January-June 2010, the Indian government made 101 requests during July-December 2011, up 49% as compared to January-June 2011 during which 68 CRRs were made.
Of the 101 content removal requests made by the government, only 29% were entertained either completely or partially. The report said that 1 request may require removal of more than one content item. In total, 255 items were requested to be removed from Google.
The highest number of CRRs were for YouTube. The government requested removal of 133 items out of which 77 were on the basis of Defamation. 24 requests CRRs were on the grounds of Hate Speech while 10 were considered as National Security issue. The internet giant also received 9 CRRs for its immensely popular search engine itself involving 40 items on the web. 13 items were on the grounds of Defamation while 11 were categorized as Others.
Only a couple of CRRs were for Google Images and Google Maps. Impersonation was the primary reason for the former. Google’s social network Orkut received 23 CRRs for 40 items with major reason being Impersonation (16 items) and Defamation (15 items). Google’s blog publishing service Blogger had 19 CRRs for 49 items. The key drivers for CRRs on Blogger were Defamation (23 items) and, Privacy and Security (14 items).
So what do these stats mean? What is the government actually clamping down on?
A breakdown by the reason for which CRRs were made, shows us exactly why the authorities are asking certain content to be removed. Out of the 255 items, 130 or slightly more than 50% were for defamation. 38 or nearly 15% CRRs were on the grounds of Other. Further insight into the reasoning for removal requests under this category have not been provided by Google.
Nearly 10% or 25 CRR items were for Hate Speech and almost all of them were on YouTube. Impersonation was the 4th highest reason for CRRs with 22 items up for removal. 16 out of 22, and not surprisingly so, were on Orkut. Privacy and Security, National Security, Violence, Copyright and Pornography were the other reasons on the grounds of which CRRs were made.
Content Removal Requests are not new for Google. India is not the only government making these requests either. In fact in a recent official blog post, the company exclaimed "It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship."
Fighting online piracy, copyright violations, defamation and many other issues that are against the law definitely sounds like the way to go. The internet needs to be a platform which can be trusted by people of all ages.
Companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc should also put in place effective controls which if not entirely stop, reduce the amount of violations. However just like having a police force does not eliminate crime entirely, such controls may not guarantee complete removal of anti social elements.
Valid and logical CRRs should be tolerated by the netizens, looking at them as some form of protection from anti-social elements on the internet. However there is a fine line between the concept of CRR for issues like national security, copyright, etc and that of state policing.
Many online users fear that increased government control over content on the internet will restrict freedom of speech, and rightly so. Like most other public policies and government control measures, CRRs are a double edged sword.
The big question is, which side of the edge will do more damage?