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.

Mapping creates jobs and drives global economic growth

Twenty years ago, we used paper maps and printed guides to help us navigate the world. Today, the most advanced digital mapping technologies—satellite imagery, GPS devices, location data and of course Google Maps—are much more accessible. This sea change in mapping technology is improving our lives and helping businesses realize untold efficiencies.

The transformation of the maps we use everyday is driven by a growing industry that creates jobs and economic growth globally. To present a clearer picture of the importance of the geo services industry, we commissioned studies from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Oxera. What we found is that maps make a big economic splash around the world.

In summary, the global geo services industry is valued at up to $270 billion per year and pays out $90 billion in wages. In the U.S., it employs more than 500,000 people and is worth $73 billion. The infographic below illustrates some examples of the many benefits of maps, whether it’s improving agriculture irrigation systems or helping emergency response teams save lives.

Click the image for a larger version

1.1 billion hours of travel time saved each year? That’s a lot of time. Also, consider UPS, which uses map technology to optimize delivery routes—saving 5.3 million miles and more than 650,000 gallons of fuel in 2011. And every eight seconds, a user hails a taxi with Hailo, which used maps and GPS to deliver more than 1 million journeys in London alone last year. Finally, Zipcar uses maps to connect more than 760,000 customers to a growing fleet of cars in locations around the world.

Because maps are such an integral part of how we live and do business, the list of examples goes on and on. That’s why it’s important we all understand the need to invest in the geo services industry so it continues to grow and drive the global economy. Investments can come from the public and private sectors in many forms—product innovation, support of open data policies, more geography education programs in schools and more.

We’re proud of the contributions that Google Maps and Earth, the Google Maps APIs and our Enterprise solutions have made to the geo services industry and to making maps more widely available, but there’s a long way to go. To learn more about the impact of the maps industry, see the full reports.

Keep the Internet free and open

Starting in 1973, when my colleagues and I proposed the technology behind the Internet, we advocated for an open standard to connect computer networks together. This wasn’t merely philosophical; it was also practical.

Our protocols were designed to make the networks of the Internet non-proprietary and interoperable. They avoided “lock-in,” and allowed for contributions from many sources. This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today. Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organize and influence, to speak and be heard.

But starting in a few hours, a closed-door meeting of the world’s governments is taking place in Dubai, and regulation of the Internet is on the agenda. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is convening a conference from December 3-14 to revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote. Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries.

You can read more about my concerns on, but I am not alone. So far, more than 1,000 organizations from more than 160 countries have spoken up too, and they’re joined by hundreds of thousands of Internet users who are standing up for a free and open Internet. On an interactive map at, you can see that people from all corners of the world have signed our petition, used the #freeandopen hashtag on social media, or created and uploaded videos to say how important these issues are.

If you agree and want to support a free and open Internet too, I invite you to join us by signing the petition at Please make your voice heard and spread the word.

Update December 15, 2012: At the conclusion of the ITU meeting in Dubai on Friday, 89 countries signed the treaty, while 55 countries said they would not sign or that additional review was needed. We stand with the countries who refused to sign, and with the millions of you who have voiced your support for a free and open web.

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, 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.

A new way to visualize the global arms trade

Did you know that 60 percent of all violent deaths are due to small arms and light weapons? Small arms, such as revolvers, assault rifles and light machine guns, and ammunition represent a multi-billion dollar industry, and three quarters of the world’s small arms lie in the hand of civilians—more than 650 million civilian arms. As part of the Google Ideas initiative on illicit networks, we’ve created an interactive data visualization of global small arms and ammunition trading to better understand and map the global arms trade.

The tool was produced by Google’s Creative Lab team in collaboration with the Igarape Institute. More than 1 million data points on imports and exports of small arms, light weapons and ammunition between 1992 and 2010 and across 250 states and territories across the world were provided by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) small arms database. The visualization reveals patterns and trends in imports and exports of arms and ammunition across the world, making it easy to explore how they relate to conflicts worldwide. More of the implications of this data are discussed in this video from the INFO summit hosted by Google Ideas last month:

You can explore these data points by zooming in and out of the globe, clicking on any country to readjust the view, and using the histogram tool at the bottom to see trading patterns over the years. You can see, for example, that the scale of the global trade in ammunition rivals the scale of trade in actual weapons, an insight underexplored by policymakers today in conflict prevention and resolution.

We built this visualization using the open source WebGL Globe on Google’s Chrome Experiments site; since it is open sourced, we hope to see others use the globe as a platform for bringing other complex datasets to life.

Update 8/16/12: This post has been updated to reflect more accurate numbers.

Google Ideas: joining the fight against drug cartels and other illicit networks

Violent illicit networks represent a trillion-dollar problem that affects every society in the world and claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. For example, more than 50,000 people have died in the past five years as a result of the ongoing war in Mexico between rival drug cartels. And although data on this subject is scarce and often unreliable, in 2003 the UN estimated the value of the illicit drug market to be nearly $320 billion, greater than the gross domestic product of 88 percent of countries in the world—and that was almost 10 years ago. It’s clear that illicit networks—particularly those that are violent and coercive like drug smugglers, arms dealers and human traffickers—have a devastating human and financial impact on every nation.

We think Google can help. Eighteen months ago we launched Google Ideas with the belief that Google is in the unique position to explore the role that technology can play in tackling some of the toughest human challenges in the world. Our first area of focus was counter-radicalization; last year we convened the Summit Against Violent Extremism with former gang members, right-wing extremists, jihadists and militants as well as survivors of violent extremism. Among the many outcomes of the summit was a platform that we established as a one-stop shop for tackling violent extremism through formers and survivors.

Recently, we’ve expanded our focus to include violent illicit networks such as narco-trafficking, human trafficking, organ harvesting and arms dealing. We believe that technology has the power to expose and dismantle global criminal networks, which depend on secrecy and discretion in order to function. And for the past few months, we’ve been working with people fighting on the front line to gain a better understanding of what drives these networks and how they function.

This week, in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Festival, we’re convening Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition (or the INFO summit) in Los Angeles, Calif. Too often illicit networks are seen only in the silos of those who study them. This summit aims to break down those silos by bringing together a full-range of stakeholders, from survivors of organ trafficking, sex trafficking and forced labor to government officials, dozens of engineers, tech leaders and product managers from Google and beyond. Through the summit, which lasts until Wednesday, we hope to discover ways that technology can be used to expose and disrupt these networks as a whole—and to put some of these ideas into practice.

We’ll be uploading videos from the summit to our YouTube channel. Keep up with the Summit via @googleideas and #infosummit2012, or take a look at the video below for a sneak peek.

Big Tent Sendai: Smarter ways to share information in a crisis

As we’ve seen in the last decade, information technology can save lives in a crisis. But even as data becomes more crucial to rescue efforts, key information like evacuation routes, shelter locations and weather alerts often remains inaccessible to the public. Time is of the essence in the wake of a disaster, and it's critical for emergency information to be available in open standards and formats to enable instant communication among first responders and affected populations.

This was the theme of our first Big Tent in Asia, held yesterday in Sendai, Japan. The event brought together tech industry leaders, non-profits, volunteers and government officials to discuss how technology can better assist in preparing for, responding to and rebuilding from disasters. This is an extremely pertinent issue for the Asia-Pacific region, as nearly 70 percent of fatalities from natural disasters occur here. And with the earthquake and tsunami last year affecting the coastal regions of Northeastern Japan, Sendai was a particularly meaningful location to discuss new ways that technology can aid the efforts of responders to reduce the impact and cost of disasters.

During the panels, the audience heard stories about how two Pakistani volunteers mapped their home country so well through Google MapMaker that the UN’s mapping agency UNOSAT adopted the maps and provided them to aid workers during the Pakistan floods. Sam Johnson, Founder of the Christchurch Student Army and Young New Zealander of the Year, talked about using Facebook to quickly coordinate relief efforts on the ground after the earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. Twitter Japan Country Manager James Kondo talked about Japanese earthquake victims tweeting with the hashtag “stranded” in order to find help. Meanwhile representatives of open source project Ushahidi talked of “brainsourcing” reporters on the ground and remote volunteers to keep the world abreast of conditions in disasters such as the earthquake in Chile in 2010.

After the panels, conversations and debates, four key themes emerged. First, there is a conflict between traditional closed data architectures and emerging open models—and we need to close the gap between them. Second, we need to find complementary ways to embrace both authoritative data from official sources and crowdsourced data. Third, there’s a universal need for data, but they way it’s shared needs to be tailored to the local environment—for example, Internet-reliant countries vs. SMS-reliant countries. Finally, we were reminded that beyond the data itself, communication and collaboration are key in a crisis. Information isn’t worth anything unless people are taking that information, adapting it, consulting it and getting it to the people who need it.

One of the panels at Big Tent Sendai

Crisis response tools will continue to improve and more people across the globe will own devices to quickly access the information they need. But there are still major challenges we must address. As Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction said, we can now get quick warnings and alerts to many populations on their phones, but many who receive the alerts don’t know how to act.

To see clips from Sendai and previous events, visit the Big Tent YouTube channel, where you can also join in the debate via comments, get more information on the presenters and see how different communities approach many of the same issues. We’ll hold more Big Tents in Asia soon, so please check back on our website to learn more.

The fight against scam ads—by the numbers

This is the second in a series of posts that will provide greater transparency about how we make our ads safer by detecting and removing scam ads. -Ed.
Last month, I shared an overview of the technology Google has built to prevent bad ads from showing on Google and our partner sites, including our efforts to review accounts, sites and ads. To illustrate the scale of this challenge, today I’d like to provide some metrics that give greater insight into the scale of the problem we’re combating.

Bad ads have a disproportionately negative effect on our users; even a single bad ad slipping through our defenses is one too many. That’s why we’re constantly working to improve our systems and utilize new techniques to prevent bad ads from appearing on Google and our partner sites. In fact, billions of ads are submitted every year for a wide variety of products. We have a set of ads policies that cover a huge array of areas in more than 40 different languages. For example, because we aim to show safe, truthful and accurate ads to our users, we don’t allow ads for misleading claims, ad spam or malware.

Ads that are in violation of our ads policies aren’t allowed to be shown on Google and our AdSense partner sites. For many repeat offenders, we ban not just ads but also advertisers who seek to abuse our advertising system to take advantage of people. In the case of ads that are promoting counterfeit goods, we typically ban the advertiser after only one violation. Here are some metrics that give some insight into the scale of the impact we have had over time, showing the numbers of actions we’ve taken against advertiser accounts, sites and ads. You can see that the numbers are growing—and growing faster over time.

Year Advertiser Accounts Suspended for Terms of Service and Advertising PoliciesSites Rejected for Site PolicyAds Disapproved
2011 824K610K134M
2010 248K398K56.7M
2009 68.5K305K42.5M
2008 18.1K167K25.3M
We find that there are relatively few malicious players, who make multiple attempts to bypass our defenses to defraud users. As we get better and faster at catching these advertisers, they redouble their efforts and create more accounts at an even faster rate.

Even in this ever-escalating arms race, our efforts are working. One method we use to test the success of our efforts is to ask human raters to tell us how we’re doing. These human raters review a set of sites that are advertised on Google. We use a large set of sites in order to get an accurate statistical reading of our efforts. We also weight the sites in our statistical sample based on the number of times a particular site was displayed so that if a particular site is shown more often, it’s more likely to be in our sample set. By using human raters, we can calibrate our automated systems and ensure that we’re improving our efforts over time. In 2011, we reduced the percentage of bad ads by more than 50 percent compared with 2010. That means the proportion of bad ads that are showing on Google was halved in just a year.

Google’s long-term success is based on people trusting our products. We want to make sure that the ads on Google are safe and trustworthy, and we’re not satisfied until we do.

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.

Don't censor the web

You might notice many of your favorite websites look different today. Wikipedia is down. WordPress is dark. We’re censoring our homepage logo and asking you to petition Congress. So what’s the big deal?

Right now in Washington D.C., Congress is considering two bills that would censor the web and impose burdensome regulations on American businesses. They’re known as the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House. Here’s what they’d do:
  • PIPA & SOPA will censor the web. These bills would grant new powers to law enforcement to filter the Internet and block access to tools to get around those filters. We know from experience that these powers are on the wish list of oppressive regimes throughout the world. SOPA and PIPA also eliminate due process. They provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution.
  • PIPA & SOPA will risk our industry’s track record of innovation and job creation. These bills would make it easier to sue law-abiding U.S. companies. Law-abiding payment processors and Internet advertising services can be subject to these private rights of action. SOPA and PIPA would also create harmful (and uncertain) technology mandates on U.S. Internet companies, as federal judges second-guess technological measures used by these companies to stop bad actors, and potentially impose inconsistent injunctions on them.
  • PIPA & SOPA will not stop piracy. These bills wouldn’t get rid of pirate sites. Pirate sites would just change their addresses in order to continue their criminal activities. There are better ways to address piracy than to ask U.S. companies to censor the Internet. The foreign rogue sites are in it for the money, and we believe the best way to shut them down is to cut off their sources of funding. As a result, Google supports alternative approaches like the OPEN Act.
Fighting online piracy is extremely important. We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites. And we think there is more that can be done here—like targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal.

Because we think there’s a good way forward that doesn’t cause collateral damage to the web, we’re joining Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla and other Internet companies in speaking out against SOPA and PIPA. And we’re asking you to sign a petition and join the millions who have already reached out to Congress through phone calls, letters and petitions asking them to rethink SOPA and PIPA.

DatenDialog - Big Tent goes to Berlin

In May, we held our first Big Tent conference near London, where we debated some of the hot issues relating to the Internet and society with policy-makers, academics and NGOs. The term "big tent” not only described the marquee venue but also our aim to include diverse points of view.

After the U.K. success, we decided to export the concept. Yesterday we welcomed more than 200 guests in Berlin, Germany to the second Big Tent event, entitled DatenDialog.

This dialogue about data tackled the issue of online privacy from a variety of angles. It was appropriate to hold it in Germany, which is a pacesetter both in its concern about privacy and its ideas for safeguarding personal data. During the one-day event, we debated questions such as: what does responsible collaboration between the tech industry and the data protection authorities look like? Do we need new regulation to manage the Internet and the large amount of data produced in the online world? Who is responsible for educating users and how does the tech industry make sure it builds privacy controls into its products?

Speakers included the German State Secretary for the Interior Cornelia Rogall-Grothe and the Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, alongside international authors and bloggers Cory Doctorow and Jeff Jarvis who appeared via live video chat from the U.S.

The debate was always lively, sometimes polarised—Cory likened amalgamated data to nuclear waste while Jeff appealed to governments not to regulate for the worst case—but all seemed to agree that it was a worthwhile and timely exercise to explore these important issues.

You can watch the highlights soon on our Big Tent YouTube channel, and stay tuned for more Big Tents on a range of topics around the world in the coming months.

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)