Google remains unresponsive to most government requests

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The Bangladesh government and its various agencies made 867 requests to Google to remove certain contents in the six months from July to December last year. However, Google did not act on 76 per cent of those requests and did not remove the contents as requested by the government.

Some 57 per cent of the contents that the government requested to remove were critical of the government.

Google regularly releases data regarding the government requests seeking removal of contents or user data in their transparency reports, which contains details about the type of content that the government requests to remove and the initiative taken by Google in response.

Google is a popular tech-service provider worldwide with different sorts of services and platforms. Video sharing site YouTube is also an initiative of Google. Most of the government requests seeking information and removal of contents are YouTube centric.

Google said in its transparency reports that they received some 491 requests from the government for removing contents criticising the government. In addition, it received 277 requests for removing defamatory contents, 25 to remove contents hurting religious beliefs, 15 to remove fraudulent content and 32 to remove content on other issues.

The government also made some requests seeking removal of contents for various reasons, including national security, privacy and copyright. However, the highest number of requests was made for removing YouTube contents.

The government made requests to remove as many as 618 YouTube for criticising the government and defamation. The government made some 34 requests for removing contents which were religiously sensitive, 20 for hate speech and 18 requests for removing videos for having obscene and unethical contents.

Google received a total of 2,375 requests from the government for removing content from 2011 to 2022. 

The number of requests made by the government was 707 in the first six months of 2022. In all, Google received a total of 1,574 requests for content removal in 2022 alone. The number of requests from the government has been rising in recent years.

Number of contents removed

Google did not take any initiative in the case of 76 per cent of the requests made by the government and its different in six months from July to December last year.

The tech giant says that there was not enough information in 16 per cent of the requests. Some 4 per cent of the contents were removed for breaching the terms of Google policy. Google removed more than 1.5 per cent of contents for legal obligations and it already had removed more than 1 per cent of the contents before the government asked them to do it.

Google says courts and government agencies in different countries make requests for removing contents from its sites on a regular basis. The Google authorities carefully verify them. However, they only remove items that contradict with Google’s own policy.

Google provided some details about two requests from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The first one was a request to remove a link from the Google play store, which was being used in betting. Google removed the content following the request as the content breached its own policy. They have asked for details regarding the link, the Google transparency report reads.

The BTRC also had urged for removing another link of a video clip. However, the Google authority did not take any initiative that time.

Google, in this regard, said that video clip contained information about two victims being tortured. The video clip sparked widespread discussions among the people and there was no legal obligation either to remove it. Therefore, the Google authorities didn’t remove the clip.

Requests seeking information about the users

Apart from seeking removal of contents, the government also had asked Google to provide user information.

Different government agencies made nine requests seeking information about the users on an emergency basis in the first six months of 2022.  Besides, Google received a legal request for information. The government also sought information on 21 accounts.  Google said it had served 60 per cent of the request it received.

Today or tomorrow, they (Google authorities) will have to compromise at some point for the sake of their business, which could curtail the freedom of expression
Professor BM Mainul Hossain, Information Technology Institute of Dhaka University

Google scrutinises and removes contents on a regular basis for violation of its policy. For instance, it removed 115,907 YouTube videos from Bangladesh. A total of 426,236 YouTube videos were removed in 2022.

Bangladesh ranks eighth in the world in terms of removing video contents. India, the US and Indonesia are at the top of the list.

Speaking regarding this to Prothom Alo, Professor BM Mainul Hossain of Institute of Information Technology at Dhaka University, “Global tech agencies follow the international rules. Besides, they have their own directives. They do not respond to requests that do not comply with their own policy.”

He said, “The government should make these requests in a proper way giving a proper reason behind the request and the section of the law involved.”

“At the end of the day, the tech companies are business firms. Today or tomorrow, they will have to compromise at some point for the sake of their business, which could curtail the freedom of expression.”

* This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu