Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Transparency Report: Government requests on the rise

We think it’s important to shine a light on how government actions could affect our users. When we first launched the Transparency Report in early 2010, there wasn’t much data out there about how governments sometimes hamper the free flow of information on the web. So we took our first step toward greater transparency by disclosing the number of government requests we received. At the time, we weren’t sure how things would look beyond that first snapshot, so we pledged to release numbers twice a year. Today we’re updating the Transparency Report with data about government requests from January to June 2012.

This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise. As you can see from the graph below, government demands for user data have increased steadily since we first launched the Transparency Report. In the first half of 2012, there were 20,938 inquiries from government entities around the world. Those requests were for information about 34,614 accounts.


The number of government requests to remove content from our services was largely flat from 2009 to 2011. But it’s spiked in this reporting period. In the first half of 2012, there were 1,791 requests from government officials around the world to remove 17,746 pieces of content.


You can see the country-by-country trends for requests to hand over user data and to remove content from our services in the Transparency Report itself, but in aggregate around the world, the numbers continue to go up.

As always, we continue to improve the Transparency Report with each data release. Like before, we’re including annotations for this time period with interesting facts. We’re also showing new bar graphs with data in addition to tables to better display content removal trends over time. We’ve now translated the entire Transparency Report into 40 languages, and we’ve expanded our FAQ—including one that explains how we sometimes receive falsified court orders asking us to remove content. We do our best to verify the legitimacy of the documents we receive, and if we determine that any are fake, we don’t comply.

The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the Internet, since for the most part we don’t know what requests are made of other technology or telecommunications companies. But we’re heartened that in the past year, more companies like Dropbox, LinkedIn, Sonic.net and Twitter have begun to share their statistics too. Our hope is that over time, more data will bolster public debate about how we can best keep the Internet free and open.