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Google shows U.S., Brazil top the list of nations seeking user data

Google said Tuesday that it is making public the amount of requests it receives from foreign and U.S. governments for information about its users and requests to censor data.

Topping the list are Brazil and the United States, which have both made user data requests more than 3,000 times in the past six months. Brazil, India, Germany and the U.S. all have asked more than 100 times each during that time for the search giant to take down information on any one of its applications, such as YouTube or search.

The move comes after Google's decision last month to stop business in China because of demands by that government to censor search results.

“The vast majority of these requests are valid and the information needed is for legitimate criminal investigations,” said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer in a blog. “However, data about these activities historically has not been broadly available. We believe that greater transparency will lead to less censorship.” Drummon wrote about the decision in an op-ed today in The Washington Post.

The company is making the information available through an application called Government Requests, which will show on a map which countries are requesting information or asking for filtering of search results or other censoring.

In the initial launch, Google used data from July to December 2009 and will update in six-month increments.

Brazil, where social networking site Orkut is popular, made 3,663 requests. U.S. law enforcement and other entities made 3,580 requests. The United Kingdom and India made more than 1,000 requests each for user information.

Google didn't provide information for the number of "takedown" requests from China.
"Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time," Google said.

"China is the most polarizing example, but it is not the only one," a spokeswoman said in a separate blog. The company is regularly asked for personal data on users of its Blogger application, YouTube and Google Docs, which includes Gmail. Those applications have also been blocked in 25 of the 100 countries where the company offers services.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 20, 2010; 2:06 PM ET
 
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