Google’s explanation for leaving China was that they didn’t want to bow to Government censorship any longer. This courageous and bold move was tarnished by the fact, that Google already censored some of its search results in many other countries by request from and on behalf of local governments, but also for the sake of cultural localization. A newly released tool sheds some additional light on this widespread practice.

According to this tool, Google received in the year 2009 data removal requests from the governments of following countries: Brazil (291), Germany (188), India (142), United States (123), South Korea (64), United Kingdom (59), Italy (57), Argentina (42), Spain (32), Australia (17), Canada (16), and less than 10 requests from each of Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Finland, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey. No data about China.

This shows that Brazil, Germany, India, and the United States are heading the pack with respect to government/courts-issued data removal requests. Even though it puts them all in a Hall of Shame, those are — interestingly — not the usual suspects (full report in PDF) Saudia Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunesia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, as listed by Reporters Without Borders. The obvious reason is that those worst offender countries are implementing a censorship infrastructure on their own, and don’t need to collaborate with Google (and other public search engines) to shield their people from information their subjects are not allowed to see.

A closer look at the by-country results reported by Google’s tool shows another interesting fact: the number of data removal requests is actually an aggregate of multiple Google services, including Web Search, YouTube, GMail etc. YouTube data removal requests may be linked to Copyright infringement or libel / slander cases, while Web Search removal requests are reeking of classical censorship. If we look at the top offenders w.r.t. Web Search removal requests (by court order), the list starts like this:

  • Germany (94)
  • Argentina (31)
  • United States (20)
  • Brazil (9)
  • United Kingdom (8)
  • Italy (2)
  • Spain (1)

So, as always, better consume statistics, especially raw data, cum grano salis: objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. So is institutionalized censorship by supposedly democratic countries.

Thanks Google for sharing this interesting piece of the puzzle with the general public.