Google and Twitter reports government transparency

Today is Data Privacy Day in the US (January 28 US time), a government-led initiative to raise awareness of privacy in the digital age. To celebrate and educate, Google and Twitter have released details on requests the two companies have received from governments and copyright holders around the world, including New Zealand.

Google

Today, Google explained the process it takes with government requests in a blog post by chief legal officer, David Drummond.

Drummond says it's important for Google to strike a balance between helping law enforcement agencies pursue illegal activities, and protecting the rights and security of its users. To maintain this balance, the company attempts to narrow all requests, and will only provide user information when accompanied by a court order, he says.

Last week, Google released the results of its biannual Transparency Report, which shows user information requests globally have increased from 12,500 in 2009,  to over 21,000 last year. Google says its compliance with these kinds of requests has dropped from more than two-thirds in 2010, to 66 percent in 2012 (there is no compliance data provided before 2010).

The New Zealand government doesn't feature on the list of countries that have requested user information, however this might have more to do with our small size than our love of internet privacy.  Google says in countries where there are a relatively small number of requests, this information is removed as it might be easily identifiable to cases currently in the court.

Since July 2010, Google says there have been more than 13 New Zealand requests for the removal of items from one of its web properties, like Blogspot, YouTube, or search. The total number items requested to be removed is around 30, and the most often cited reason is defamation. Google says it has complied to more than half of these takedown notices, the majority accompanied by court orders.

Twitter 

Twitter released its first Transparency Report in July of last year, and today made public the second for 2012. Along with the reports, the microblogging service has launched  transparency.twitter.com to host these reports, and provide further information on government and corporate interactions with the site.

According to the latest report, Twitter recieved 1,858 requests for user information, 48 requests for removal of tweets, and 6,646 copyright infringement notices. 

The report says there were no user information or removal requests from New Zealand. Copyright notices aren't broken up into country of origin, so it's unclear how many requests would've been made by Kiwi copyright holders.

For the first time, Twitter has included information on its country specific tweet bans. There were two instances in 2012, one in Germany and one in France, both involving racist sentiment or hate speech. These tweets were witheld within the jurisdictions of the individual countries, but could be seen in others which don't have similar laws.

Twitter says it will eventually host much more indepth information on transparency.twitter.com, and currently much of the granularity is only available for US requests.