Google Says Governments Fight Transparency - InformationWeek

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Google Says Governments Fight Transparency

Google's latest Transparency Report sees a rise in efforts by governments to erase criticism.

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In its eighth biannual Transparency Report, Google once again observes a rise in government requests to remove content that's critical of government behavior, even though the company is fighting government opposition to transparency and pushing for limits to secret government data gathering.

Susan Infantino, legal director at Google, wrote in a blog post that government requests to remove political content have been a consistent concern for the company. Judges, police departments, and town councils have sought to deny access to criticism and to information about their actions and decision-making processes. "These officials often cite defamation, privacy, and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services."

[Tech industry executives are unhappy about the way the government collects data on citizens. Read Reform NSA, Tech Execs Tell Obama.]

During the first six months of 2013, "we received 3,846 government requests to remove 24,737 pieces of content -- a 68 percent increase over the second half of 2012," Infantino wrote. The majority of requests represented presumably legitimate efforts to enforce applicable laws, but 93 sought the removal of government criticism. Google removed content in response to less than one-third of these requests. For example, it declined a US law enforcement official's request to remove a search result listing of a link to a news article about the officer's record.

The company also received 27 requests from an unnamed federal agency to remove 89 Android apps from the Google Play Store. The request said the apps infringed on the agency's trademark rights. Google reviewed the apps and removed 76 of them.

Governmental content removal requests grew tenfold in Turkey and more than doubled in Russia, Infantino said.

Google continues its litigation to get the US government to allow it to disclose the aggregate number of demands for information it receives based on national security concerns. In a related effort, Google, Apple, AOL, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo asked the US government this month in an open letter to restrain its secret data gathering through the National Security Agency. Unfettered data gathering by the NSA has been characterized as a threat to the future of cloud computing.

Pushback against governmental resistance to goverance goes beyond the tech industry. On Wednesday, the panel of US government advisers reviewing intelligence gathering practices at President Obama's behest published a report recommending the imposition of oversight and limits on the NSA. On Tuesday, in another case related to transparency, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Obama administration to reveal an unclassified presidential directive in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. In her ruling, she rejected the government's attempt "to engage in what is in effect governance by 'secret law.'"

Thomas Claburn is editor-at-large for InformationWeek. He has been writing about business and technology since 1996 for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. He is the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and his mobile game Blocfall Free is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

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User Rank: Ninja
12/26/2013 | 11:42:25 AM
This is the pot calling the kettle black. Google opposes governments collecting data on individuals, but at the same time collects data on individuals to make quite a bit of revenue. And Google is by far not as transparent and open as they demand it from governments. I think Google's opposition is solely based on the fact that they have to give up the information without any compensation. If Google could charge governments for the data I am sure Google would be very quiet on this AT&T who get millions for collaborating in unconstitutional mass collections of data.
User Rank: Ninja
12/26/2013 | 11:25:41 AM
Re: Public Sector Incentives Are A Problem
All valid questions but I have a few comments:

- the "ethanol lunacy"...although I am not sure what exactly you mean by that. Using ethanol instead of gasoline is a wise move, ethanol can be created from renewable energy sources while burning gasoline makes it to be gone forever. The lunacy here is solely in the moronic subsidies for corn or other food crops for the sake of generating ethanol. Plenty have shown that especially switch grass is a much better plant to use. It grows almost everywhere, does not need fertilizer, and is much easier and more efficiently converted to ethanol than corn.

- Bureau of Indian Affairs: many of the native Americans are still forced to live on reservations under deplorable conditions. Sure, they could move if they could afford it and if they had the same educational opportunities as everyone else. I think that there is still a need for this bureau, but the focus should be clearly on serving the native population rather than patronize them

- in general, a lot of the valid criticism targets decisions that were made out of purely economical motives and those are typically pressed upon government and Congress by lobbyists. For example, the exporting of 'dirty' jobs is exclusively for economical reasons. Keep the benefits and export the problems. Good luck getting the private sector to take a stand here and act more ethical. The private sector does not care about anyone else than shareholders. Satisfying customers is a necessary means to generate more shareholder value and many companies show clearly that customer satisfaction is not their prime objective. See you example of the high cost of education in the US: the private sector managed to build a multi-billion Dollar industry by convincing governments to to do more standardized testing and constant curricula changes. Educating young people is not their prime objective, the sole goal is to make as much money as possible.
User Rank: Strategist
12/20/2013 | 6:00:32 AM
Re: Public Sector Incentives Are A Problem
I guess government can be trusted to provide transparent and accurate information but not sure why the government has not been clear, about the distribution of permissions on what companies can and cannot publish reports.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 7:07:27 PM
Public Sector Incentives Are A Problem
Re government one critical problem is incentives. While the private sector is rewarded for efficiently satisfying customers, the public sector is rewarded by loyalty to superiors, and amassing and centralizing power. Every page, every sentence, every word of legislation and regulation is fertilizer that enables public sector bureaucrats to grow the bureaucracy and the power of the state. Public sector bureaucrats are in fact punished for efficiency and problem solving - they lose funding and therefore status and power. Consider for example:
  • Why is American education poorer but vastly more expensive today than before the creation of the Department of Education?
  •  Why, as the end of a fiscal year approaches, does every government bureaucracy rush to spend every remaining cent of funds?
  • What would happen to the Drug Enforcement Agency if the drug problem were "solved"?
  • Why is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 21st century?
  • What has the Department of Energy accomplished re energy independence - the ethanol lunacy?
  • What has the Environmental Protection Agency accomplished other than insuring "dirty" jobs and processes move to such ecological wonderlands as China, India, Bangladesh, etc.?
  • Why is the cost of compliance Code (time wasted, litigation, record keeping, mal-investment, fraud, 100K+ IRS workforce, preparer fees, etc) with our 70,000+ page Income Tax approaching half a trillion dollars a year?

How do we incentivize government bureaucrats to change behavior?

User Rank: Author
12/19/2013 | 5:58:48 PM
I applaud Google for standing up and releasing this information. 

It was also encouraging to read in the report on US surveilliance practices, (presented to the White House yesterday) the recommendation that:

>> Legislation should be enacted authorizing telephone, Internet, and other providers to publicly disclose information about government orders to provide information to the government.

User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 5:06:19 PM
Most Transparent Administration In History
Ha, Ha....
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2013 | 5:04:41 PM
GOOGLE,please stand by you convictions ,and continue to show all that is being,or what the Obama adminastratuion is trying to hide
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