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Growth in Google User Data Requests Jumps in Germany, Turkey, Australia, South Korea and U.S.


Internet giant Google released its twice yearly Global Transparency Report over the weekend and the big news coming out of this treasure trove of data is that government censorship, measured as government requests to Google for content take-downs, is on the rise, with surprising growth in Western and democratic nations such as the U.S., Spain and Poland.  

Google also released twice yearly data on the number of  requests from government agencies and courts to hand over user data in what are presumed to be criminal investigations (Google notes in its FAQ section that it really isn't sure all the requests are truly pursuant to criminal investigations; some requests, for example, may reflect emergency situations where a life is at stake).  These requests can include access to GMail accounts, Google Documents,  identification of YouTube video posters or information related to any Google product.

Google doesn't offer much detail about the kinds of data turned over to the government, saying that different kinds of requests come from different government agencies with different legal authorities.  The company says it may in the future offer greater transparency regarding exactly what kinds of information is given to which governments' agencies and for what kinds of reasons.

For the first time, the data released with the Global Transparency Report permits analysis of trends on an annual basis, with seemingly good data available for 2010 and 2011 for the bulk of countries for which Google tracks this information.  Based on our analysis, requests by governments for user data from Google grew the fastest in Germany, with the number of requests jumping 73.5% year-over-year, from 1,436 to 2,491.

Turkey came in second with an increase of 67.7% (growing from 96 in 2010 to 161 in 2011), followed by Australia with an increase of 47.7% (545 to 805) and South Korea, with an increase of 43.3% (360 to 516).  Although topping the list in terms of sheer number of requests, probably indicative of the wider user of Google products in the U.S., the U.S. ranked fifth in terms of user data request growth, with the number of requests increasing by 38.06%, from 8,888 in 2010 to 12,271 in 2011.

Overall growth for user data requests for the countries analyzed (sufficient data for annual growth analysis was not available for a number of countries) was 19.3%.

The U.S., though, did rank first in terms of the number of such requests fulfilled by Google for the second half of 2010 and the two halves of 2011, with Google complying with these requests 94%, 93% and 93% of the time, respectively.

Of the countries analyzed, Argentina ranked last in terms of how often Google complied with the government requests - Google responded to the requests only about a third of the time during the first half and second half of 2011.  It's not surprising, then, that Argentina ranked dead last in terms of user request growth, with the number of such government requests in Argentina dropping by 46% from 2010 to 2011, sliding from 261 to 141.

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