New free expression tools from Google Ideas

As long as people have expressed ideas, others have tried to silence them. Today one out of every three people lives in a society that is severely censored. Online barriers can include everything from filters that block content to targeted attacks designed to take down websites. For many people, these obstacles are more than an inconvenience—they represent full-scale repression.

This week, in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Gen Next Foundation, Google Ideas—our “think/do tank”—is hosting a summit in New York entitled “Conflict in a Connected World.”

The summit brings together “hacktivists,” security experts, entrepreneurs, dissidents and others to explore the changing nature of conflict and how online tools and can both harm and protect. We’re also assessing what might be done to better protect people confronting online censorship. With our partners, we will launch several new products and initiatives designed to help:
  • Project Shield is an initiative that enables people to use Google’s technology to better protect websites that might otherwise have been taken offline by “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks. We’re currently inviting webmasters serving independent news, human rights, and elections-related content to apply to join our next round of trusted testers.
  • The Digital Attack Map is a live data visualization, built through a collaboration between Arbor Networks and Google Ideas, that maps DDoS attacks designed to take down websites—and their content—around the globe. This tool shows real-time anonymous traffic data related to these attacks on free speech, and also lets people explore historic trends and see related news reports of outages happening on a given day.
  • uProxy is a new browser extension under development that lets friends provide each other with a trusted pathway to the web, helping protect an Internet connection from filtering, surveillance or misdirection. The University of Washington and Brave New Software developed the tool, which was seeded by Google Ideas. To learn more about the challenges uProxy aims to address, watch our video.
Information technologies have transformed conflict in our connected world, and access to the free flow of information is increasingly critical. This week’s summit—as well as Shield, the Digital Attack Map and uProxy—are all steps we’re taking to help those fighting for free expression around the globe.

The Big Tent comes to Washington

When we started holding our Big Tent events in London two years ago, we wanted to stir up lively conversation about some of the hot topics relating to the Internet and society. After all, the political meaning of a “big tent” is to attract diverse viewpoints to come together in one place. Since then, we’ve held more than 20 Big Tents on three different continents to debate issues ranging from arts and culture online to the economic impact of the web.

Later today, the Big Tent is coming to Washington, D.C. for the first time. Along with our partner Bloomberg, we'll hear from some of the top names in media, government and the arts for discussions about one of the values we hold most dear: the right to free expression.

Can free speech survive in the digital age? At a time when too many governments deny their citizens the right to dissent, we’ll ask if the Internet is reaching its promise of empowering people around the world. We’ll have sessions on the limits to free speech online, national security in the Internet age, and creativity and freedom on the web.

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt and senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond will be joined by a variety of speakers, including former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales, deputy secretary of homeland security Jane Holl Lute, Bloomberg chief content officer Norman Pearlstine, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, and Saudi Arabian comedian and YouTube star Omar Hussein.

Things kick off at 1:30pm EDT today—you can watch the entire event on Bloomberg’s live stream and tune in to the Big Tent Google+ page for updates as the event unfolds. Later on, we’ll also upload video clips to the Big Tent YouTube channel. We hope you’ll join us for exciting conversations about how to best keep the Internet free and open.

Support free expression: Vote for the Netizen of the Year

One in three Internet users suffers from restricted access to the web due to government censorship, filtering or online surveillance, according to the free expression advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. Around the world, bloggers and cyber-dissidents are jailed for expressing their views. Reporters Without Borders makes sure their struggles are not forgotten.

We believe in a free and open Internet where everyone can express their opinions and learn from others. For this reason, for the past several years we’ve partnered with Reporters Without Borders to organize their annual Netizen of the Year Award, which honors an Internet user, blogger or cyber-dissident who has made a notable contribution in defense of online freedom of expression.

This year for the first time, Reporters Without Borders is asking you to help decide who will win the award. Nine “netizens”—from Bulgaria, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mali, Russia, Senegal and Vietnam—have been nominated for consideration. Watch the videos showing their stories and then vote at youtube.com/netizen2013.


We hope you’ll be as inspired as we have been by these brave people. The winner, based on votes from people like you around the world, will be announced on March 7. He or she will be invited to the award ceremony taking place at Google’s Paris office on March 12—the World Day Against Cyber Censorship.

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.

Celebrate freedom. Support a free and open Internet.

On July Fourth, America celebrates its independence.

In the summer of 1776, 13 disenfranchised colonies spoke. It took days for their declaration to be printed and distributed throughout the colonies, and it took weeks for it to be seen across the Atlantic.

Today, such a document could be published and shared with the world in seconds. More than any time in history, more people in more places have the ability to have their voices heard.

Powering these voices are billions of Internet connections around the world—people on their mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. The Internet is a powerful platform that makes it easier for people to speak, to assemble, and to be heard. This is true no matter where freedom is taking root.

Yet we’ve only just begun to see what a free and open Internet can do for people and for the freedom we cherish.



Today we’re sharing a video we made to celebrate our freedom and the tools that support it. Please take a moment to watch it, share it with your friends, and add your voice.

Join us in supporting a free and open Internet.

More transparency into government requests

About two years ago, we launched our interactive Transparency Report. We started by disclosing data about government requests. Since then, we’ve been steadily adding new features, like graphs showing traffic patterns and disruptions to Google services from different countries. And just a couple weeks ago, we launched a new section showing the requests we get from copyright holders to remove search results.

The traffic and copyright sections of the Transparency Report are refreshed in near-real-time, but government request data is updated in six-month increments because it’s a people-driven, manual process. Today we’re releasing data showing government requests to remove blog posts or videos or hand over user information made from July to December 2011.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.

This is the fifth data set that we’ve released. And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship.

For example, in the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. We didn’t comply with either of these requests.

In addition to releasing new data today, we’re also adding a feature update which makes it easier to see in aggregate across countries how many removals we performed in response to court orders, as opposed to other types of requests from government agencies. For the six months of data we’re releasing today, we complied with an average of 65 percent of court orders, as opposed to 47 percent of more informal requests.

We’ve rounded up some additional interesting facts in the annotations section of the Transparency Report. We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the web at large. But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviors are shaping our web.

Transparency for copyright removals in search

We believe that openness is crucial for the future of the Internet. When something gets in the way of the free flow of information, we believe there should be transparency around what that block might be.

So two years ago we launched the Transparency Report, showing when and what information is accessible on Google services around the world. We started off by sharing data about the government requests we receive to remove content from our services or for information about our users. Then we began showing traffic patterns to our services, highlighting when they’ve been disrupted.

Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. So we’re providing information about who sends us copyright removal notices, how often, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which websites. As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.

For this launch we’re disclosing data dating from July 2011, and moving forward we plan on updating the numbers each day. As you can see from the report, the number of requests has been increasing rapidly. These days it’s not unusual for us to receive more than 250,000 requests each week, which is more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009. In the past month alone, we received about 1.2 million requests made on behalf of more than 1,000 copyright owners to remove search results. These requests targeted some 24,000 different websites.


Fighting online piracy is very important, and we don’t want our search results to direct people to materials that violate copyright laws. So we’ve always responded to copyright removal requests that meet the standards set out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). At the same time, we want to be transparent about the process so that users and researchers alike understand what kinds of materials have been removed from our search results and why. To promote that transparency, we have long shared copies of copyright removal requests with Chilling Effects, a nonprofit organization that collects these notices from Internet users and companies. We also include a notice in our search results when items have been removed in response to copyright removal requests.

We believe that the time-tested “notice-and-takedown” process for copyright strikes the right balance between the needs of copyright owners, the interests of users, and our efforts to provide a useful Google Search experience. Google continues to put substantial resources into improving and streamlining this process. We already mentioned that we’re processing more copyright removal requests for Search than ever before. And we’re also processing these requests faster than ever before; last week our average turnaround time was less than 11 hours.

At the same time, we try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests. For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content. We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results. We try to catch these ourselves, but we also notify webmasters in our Webmaster Tools when pages on their website have been targeted by a copyright removal request, so that they can submit a counter-notice if they believe the removal request was inaccurate.

Transparency is a crucial element to making this system work well. We look forward to making more improvements to our Transparency Report—offering copyright owners, Internet users, policymakers and website owners the data they need to see and understand how removal requests from both governments and private parties affect our results in Search.

Update December 11, 2012: Starting today, anyone interested in studying the data can download all the data shown for copyright removals in the Transparency Report. We are also providing information about how often we remove search results that link to allegedly infringing material. Specifically, we are disclosing how many URLs we removed for each request and specified website, the overall removal rate for each request and the specific URLs we did not act on. Between December 2011 and November 2012, we removed 97.5% of all URLs specified in copyright removal requests. Read more on Policy by the Numbers.

Software downloads in Syria

Free expression is a fundamental human right and a core value of our company—but sometimes there are limits to where we can make our products and services available. U.S. export controls and sanctions programs, for example, prohibit us from offering certain software downloads in some countries.

The fine details of these restrictions evolve over time, and we’re always exploring how we can better offer tools for people to access and share information. For example, last year we were able to make some of our products available for download in Iran. And today we’re pleased to make Google Earth, Picasa and Chrome available for download in Syria.

As a U.S. company, we remain committed to full compliance with U.S. export controls and sanctions. We remain equally committed to continue exploring how we can help more people around the globe use technology to communicate, find and create information.

Our approach to free expression and controversial content

Four years ago we first outlined our approach to removing content from Google products and services. Nothing has changed since then, but given World Day Against Cyber-Censorship is coming up on Monday, March 12, we figured now was a good time for a refresher. Here goes.

At Google, we have a bias in favor of free expression—not just because it’s a key tenet of free societies, but also because more information generally means more choice, more power, more economic opportunity and more freedom for people. As Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

That said, we recognize that there are limits. In some areas it’s obvious where to draw the line. For example, we have an all-product ban on child pornography. But in other areas, like extremism, it gets complicated because our products are available in numerous countries with widely varying laws and cultures.

For Search—where we are simply indexing content—we take down as little as possible because helping people find information goes to the heart of our mission. We remove webpages from our search index when required by law, and we post a notice to Chilling Effects when we do so. For example, if we’re notified about specific pages that glorify Nazism, which is prohibited by German law, then we remove those specific pages from Google.de (our German domain).

For products like Blogger, orkut, Google+ and YouTube—where we host the content—we encourage users to express themselves freely, but we also want to ensure that people behave responsibly, so we set guidelines covering the use of our different services. For example, no hate speech, no copyright-infringing content, no death threats, no incitement to violence. And when we’re notified about content that either violates those guidelines or breaks the law—for example, we receive a court order—we will remove it, or restrict it in the country where it’s illegal. Earlier this year, for example, we removed a number of specific webpages from Google properties in India after a court ruled that they violated Indian law.

One final point—none of this is simple. Dealing with controversial content is, well…controversial. It’s why we always start from the principle that more information is better, and why we’ve worked hard to be transparent about the removals we make.

A Big Tent for free expression in The Hague

Google has long worked hard to raise the issue of Internet freedom in Europe. So when the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal took the initiative to host a meeting bringing together foreign ministers from more than 16 countries in the Netherlands, we wondered what could we do to support it.



Our answer was to hook up with the Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited and host one of our Big Tent events, which aim to bring together corporations, civil society and politicians. We were delighted when both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minister Rosenthal agreed to take part. Our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt welcomed them to the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. “We are joined in a spirit to fight people who want to shut down free speech," he said. "It makes easy sense for a government to say: 'We don't like that...we're going to censor it'.” The conference, he said, was organized "to make the point that this is not right."

Secretary of State Clinton called on companies to protect Internet freedoms and stop selling technology that allows repressive governments to censor the net or spy on Internet users. She urged corporations to join Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the Global Network Initiative to resist government efforts to impose filtering or censoring requirements. She also called on governments to fight attempts to impose national controls on the net. Any such attempt would contain people in a “series of digital bubbles rather than connecting them,” she said. "It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of Internet content or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.”

Minister Uri Rosenthal called for legislation against exports of Internet surveillance material and promised 6 million euros to help Internet activists in repressive regimes. High-powered contributions came from the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European parliamentarian Marietje Schaake.

A panel brought together business leaders and prominent human rights activists, including the Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, better known as Jiew, who faces trial over comments posted on her site that were deemed insulting to the monarchy.

The Hague is our third Big Tent (see highlights here), a place where we bring together various viewpoints to discuss essential topics to the future of the Internet. The format seems to be a hit, and we plan to hold more around the world in the coming months.



(Cross-posted on the European Public Policy blog and the Public Policy blog)

Magic moments in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, thanks to the web

Today more than 50 million Egyptians started heading to the polls to cast their votes for an independent Parliament, many for the first time in their lives. The revolution in Egypt, which captured the attention of the world beginning in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, made this possible by opening the floodgates of political participation.


With the free flow of information online, people can connect and engage in a open dialogue about the future of Egypt. The web is enabling many new voters to become better informed on their choice of candidates, and letting politicians reach electors in new and exciting ways.

Getting information about the new rules and the new players is no small feat for Egyptians: there are nearly 11,000 candidates vying for 498 seats across 27 governorates nationwide during a multi-stage election that started today and lasts until March 2012. We’re doing our best to organize information to make it easier for voters to find everything they need in one place. For example, millions of Egyptians have learned where they can vote through our landing page, www.google.com.eg/elections.


We’ve also worked to give a voice to thousands of candidates to reach voters through interactive video. The YouTube Townhall includes nearly 400 videos posted by candidates and political parties explaining where they stand on issues from education and the economy to health care and political reform, sparking vibrant conversations in caf├ęs from Alexandria to Aswan.

We’re helping voters and politicians connect not just in Egypt, but throughout the entire Middle East and the world. For Tunisia’s recent parliamentary elections, we partnered with startup news portal Tunisia Live to offer a training workshop in Tunis on Google tools and social media for politicians. In France, we set up a special YouTube site for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The Internet is playing an increasingly significant role in Egypt. It’s bolstering civic engagement and becoming a powerful mechanism for information sharing—crucial to helping the nation make the tough transition to democracy.