This post from Google the other day leads us to fascinating data:
We believe that openness is crucial for the future of the Internet. When something gets in the way of the free flow of information, we believe there should be transparency around what that block might be.
So two years ago we launched the Transparency Report, showing when and what information is accessible on Google services around the world. We started off by sharing data about the government requests we receive to remove content from our services or for information about our users. Then we began showing traffic patterns to our services, highlighting when they’ve been disrupted.
This page, on government requests for user data, is most revealing for example. Whilst in the first half of 2011 the US made 5,950 requests for user data, with an acceptance rate by Google of 93 percent and a user/account total of 11,057, the United Kingdom made 1,279 requests in the same period, and of 1,444 users/accounts – requests which Google granted in 63 percent of cases.
A couple of observations. Firstly, population-wise and comparatively speaking, the number of requests the US and UK made in the aforementioned period is very similar. Secondly, it would appear that Google – an American company – has a significant bias towards accepting requests from the US government compared to, in this case, the UK.
But although the trends towards more requests for user and account data are showing a worrying increase, in reality what should really worry us is the data Google provides in relation to removal of websites from its search engine. The public provision of data relating to the latter is, as Google underlines, recent:
Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. [...]
And the figures for such removals? Well, they’re quite startling – shocking one might even be inclined to say. At the time of writing this post, and in the past month, over a million requests have been made to remove webpage addresses from Google’s search. Interestingly, one of the major technology companies – Microsoft – heads the list with over half a million addresses it or its representatives claim infringe content which it holds copyrights on.
My conclusions? It hardly seems necessary for us to worry about ACTA or SOPA any more. If so many powerful organisations can remove websites from Google’s search by simply making one of a million other monthly requests, the invisibility cloak this drops over anyone trying to get their voice heard could – in other quite different circumstances – be easily stifled and eliminated.
Powerful voices are made powerful because they are heard. Removal from a private monopolistic search service like Google’s is a tool those in charge could easily begin to employ – without resorting to the courts – to ensure a certain way of seeing and doing held sway.
Requesting that someone become invisible on Google’s web is these days to allow the option for a de facto censorship. Another example of how Western governments could now be preparing the ground for private industry to do their social-media and citizen-sourced “communication smothering” without due and proper judicial process?
For this is, in fact, one way that fascism may creep in to democracy: when governments allow private corporate figures – outside due legal process – to determine who may speak, who may debate, who may exchange ideas and who may publish.
As well as who may not do all the aforementioned.
Dangerous shiny times, this consumerism which superficially entrances so.
These are not free times we live in – but fearful. This is not an open web we have but Google’s own private playground.
Facebook is not the enemy but a response. Half-baked at that, it would seem from the latest news. Meanwhile, the real cause of all our miseries lies clearly elsewhere.
And it begins with what has become our favourite cloak engine!