Google, Digital Takedowns, and Privacy

I was just reading something in the New York Times this morning concerning Google’s new website automating the process of governments taking down information or requesting information from Google, and I was surprised to see an article about this issue on one my favorite blogs here.  Before I go on, I would suggest that you look at Google’s data here.

There’s a lot to note on that Google page.  The “chilling effect” — which posits that small changes in speech codes or in prosecutions — can have a much largely effect on speech in general by discouraging individuals from putting their content online.  We have talked a lot in class about he number of clips that are forcibly removed from YouTube on a daily basis, and I think its incredible to note that these clips are removed as a result of about fourteen legal claims per year.  Granted, some of those legal claims are larger than others, but it’s scary to think that a handful of people who are willing to prosecute their claims are silencing and removing content for the other few hundred million people who use YouTube on a daily basis.  Google is noticebly mum about the 3,580 data requests that it recieved from the US government over the last six months in 2009, which I think is interesting for a website expressly dedicated to introducing transparency into the process.  I understand that some of the information that they took off Google cannot be made publically avaliable, but would it hurt for governmental organizations or Google to provide more specific information about the type of data that is being taken?  It’s really depressing that we haven’t moven toward a better search system for one’s personal content, since users don’t have to be notified when their virtual mailbox or Google Docs account is searched by the federal government.  

   The other tidbit that I teased out of this Google site was the data concerning Brazil.  If you look closely at Brazil’s data, you will see that a large portion of its removal and data requests come from Google’s provision of Orkut, a social network that never really caught on in the United States but is popular in India and Brazil.  We don’t usually think of Brazil as a particularly invasive country when it comes to privacy rights, and it’s entirely possible that FaceBook is currently processing thousands of requests for information as I write.  Pretty scary stuff…

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