A month after shutting down its main search service in China in response to cyber attacks targeted at human rights activists stateside, Google has announced today a new tool aiming at providing greater transparency about the quantity and quality of government requests the company receives.
As one of the Web's largest providers of information content, Google regularly receives demands from governments to remove illegal content or to deliver data relevant to criminal cases.
"Of course many of these requests are entirely legitimate, such as requests for the removal of child pornography," says Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, explaining the nature of common government requests. "We also regularly receive requests from law enforcement agencies to hand over private user data. Again, the vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations."
Despite the fact that many of the situations might be perfectly reasonable, Google has created this tool for users to see just how much the company complies with government requests.
The new page, www.google.com/governmentrequests, displays a map of the world with small blue buttons hovering over countries indicating the number of times that that country's government has made a specific request of Google either for content removal or data demands. Clicking the button surfaces an info box that shows the exact percentage of those requests with which Google complied and a list offering further details about the requests.
As of now, the information made available doesn't say too much more besides what Google service the request involved (AdWords, Blogger, Image Search, etc.).
Curiously, China gets its own very red button with a question mark in place of a number. The corresponding info box reads, "Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time."