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India tops Google censorship index: Court takedowns up 300%; Gov seeks 3,500 users’ data

Google transparency
Google transparency

The Indian courts made 20 orders for the removal of 487 content items hosted on the internet by Google services between January and June 2012, setting a new record and keeping India’s second global place in Google’s internet censorship rankings, as the executive asked for personal data on 3,467 users of Google services.

In the preceding six months, from July to December 2011, Indian courts had only made five orders for nine items of content to be removed, according to Google’s latest transparency report that was released yesterday. [Google transparency portal and data]

Google complied with 33 per cent of all takedown requests received in the first half of 2012, up slightly from 29 per cent the previous half-year.

Court-ordered censorship

Out of the court-ordered removal requests, more than half (13) related to defamation, while six requests (or 30 per cent) were related to “religious offences”. [Takedown requests data]

The court orders targeted the Google blogging service Blogger 11 times, followed by four requests each to take down Google search results and YouTube video content.

Globally, India comes in seventh place by number of court-ordered requests for content takedown, with US courts having made 209 orders for Google-hosted content removal, followed by Germany, Brazil, Turkey, France and Argentina.

Government-ordered censorship

India’s executive requests for content takedown have reduced from 96 to 64 in the first half of 2012, with the majority of content takedown requests citing defamation as a reason, while 10 requests cited “privacy and security”.

This makes India’s executive and other government branches the fourth-most censorious globally, tied with the United States. Turkey’s executive is in first place, having made 453 requests, and the UK and German governments made 79 and 67 requests respectively. [Google global rankings]

Asking for user data

Google “fully or partially” complied with 64 per cent of user data requests out of 2,319 requests made for data relating to 3,467 user accounts by the Indian government and its law enforcement agencies, between January and June 2012.

This has increased from 2,207 user data requests for 3,427 user accounts in the preceding six-month period.

This puts India in second position in Google’s global league table of user requests filed, after the United States that has made 7,969 requests for user data from Google, with Brazil following India in third place with 1,566 requests. [Download Google user requests data]

Google commented on its transparency microsite: “The number of requests we receive for user account information as part of criminal investigations has increased year after year. The increase isn’t surprising, since each year we offer more products and services, and we have a larger number of users.”

Google added that the data would hopefully “shine some light on the appropriate scope and authority of government requests to obtain user data around the globe”.

Removal types

In India, a total of 374 content items were requested to be removed on Google services for “privacy and security” reasons, by either court order or government request, followed by 120 defamation-related items, and 75 items allegedly giving “religious offence”.

The Indian IT Act’s Intermediaries Rules allow private parties or the government to make takedown requests for a variety of reasons, which could fit either within Google’s broader “defamation” or “privacy” categories.

The IT Act allows for requesting the take-down of content that is “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever”. [Read previous IT Act coverage]


Google’s compliance rate with court orders about content removal was 65 per cent, which is higher than in the US, Turkey and the UK, but lower than in Germany, France, Argentina and Italy.

On the other hand, its compliance rate with government requests is one of the lowest globally at 23 per cent, compared to 44 per cent in the US, 62 per cent in the UK, and 78 per cent in Germany. Only in Brazil and Spain, out of the larger countries, did Google comply with fewer government takedown requests (10 per cent).

In terms of user data request compliance, India is in the mid-field at 64 per cent alongside the UK, whereas in the US 90 per cent of user data requests were complied with, followed by Japan and Denmark.

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