Google Transparency Report Now Shows User Data Requests

The Google Transparency Report has been updated to include data on Government requests for user information. The U.S. made requests for over 11,000 accounts in the first half of 2011 alone, making them the leader in user data requests.

The Transparency Report was first released last year. The new version gives both updated data for the first half of 2011 and adds the details on user data requests. Not all information is included in the report, as some government orders require non-disclosure.

What We See in User Data Requests

transparentAs is the case in so many categories, the U.S. is a real leader here; there were 5,950 U.S. user data requests in the first half of 2011 alone. Those requests covered 11,057 total accounts. Google complied, in whole or in part, with 93% of those requests. As noted by Wired, this indicates a 23% up-spike in U.S. user data requests when comparing Q3 & 4 of 2010 with Q1 & 2 of 2011.

The country with the next highest user data requests was India, which requested information on 2,493 accounts. Only 70% of those requets were complied with. The third through seventh most requests came from Brazil, Germany, France, the UK, and Italy, respectively. Each of these countries requested data from between one and two thousand user accounts.

Google’s 93% compliance rating in the U.S. is the highest global compliance in this category. Google notes the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows government data requests without warrants, as a major contributor.

Other Report Highlights

While the full report has plenty of data to sort through, here are some of the more interesting take-aways:

  • In the U.S., officials requested that YouTube videos of police brutality and content that allegedly defamed law enforcement officials be removed. Google did not comply with these requests.
  • Brazil made the most content removal requests. As noted by The Next Web, this is likely due to the popularity of the Orkut social network.
  • China made only three requests, total. Each requested the removal of large amounts of data. However, Google only complied with two of the requests, and cited AdWords violations as the reason for removal in both cases. No user data was requested, as Google doesn't keep such data in the country anymore.
  • Several regions, including India, made requests for the removal of material that violated local laws. Google generally gave partial compliance by blocking the content for the region without removing it from the core index.
  • The number of content removal and user account requests varied wildly in countries across the world. The fewest requests came from Hungary (0 requests of either type). From there, we range from the Switzerland-level (Switzerland had fewer than 10 content removal requests and just 36 user data requests) all the way up to the U.S. (11,000+ user data requests and 92 removal requests that targeted 757 total items.)

The Push for Open Data and New Regulation

Google's motive for the release of this data is "to offer up some metrics to contribute to a public conversation about the laws that influence how people communicate online," as stated on the Official Google Blog. Beyond the general usefulness of the raw data, Google hopes to push forward with a couple different projects.

First, Google is inviting other companies to join the Opennet Transparency Project, which creates a standardized format for similar government request data. This both allows for further raw data and allows developers to re-crunch and analyze the data in new ways.

Additionally, Google is continuing its push for new policies regarding internet data. As part of the Digital Due Process group – which also includes Amazon, AOL, AT&T, Dropbox, Facebook, and Microsoft – Google is pushing for reform of the 25-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Google has long stated that ECPA needs to be modernized.