The governments of 150 countries have requested that Google remove content a total of 355,000 times over a period of 10 years, with Russia accounting for two-thirds of requests and South Korea a distant second.
Russia has made 215,000 requests to Google to remove content from its platforms over a period of 10 years, which translates to roughly 59 requests each day, according to new research from Surfshark.
“This means Google could employ someone to handle Russian content removal requests as a full-time position,” researchers said.
Only six countries have made more than 10,000 requests, accounting for over 85% of the total, the study said.
South Korea follows Russia with 27,000 requests, or seven requests daily. India is third with 20,000, followed by Turkey at 19,000 and Brazil at 12,000. The US rounds up the top six with 11,000 submissions, or three daily.
Google is blocked in censorship-heavy countries like China (1,261 requests), Iran (two requests) and North Korea (no requests), which could explain the lack of interest from the authorities there.
YouTube, a Google-owned video platform, was the most common target of government requests to remove content, with 175,000 submissions.
It was followed by Google Search, at 104,000, and Blogger, at 17,000. In total, governments had requested content removal from 50 different Google products, including Images and Maps, according to Surfshark.
“However, it is worth mentioning that two-thirds (104 out of 150 analyzed countries) have submitted less than 100 requests in 10 years. That means that most countries’ requests are quite rare,” researchers said in a blog post.
Violations of local law and evidence from court orders are often-cited reasons for content removal requests. Governments also frequently ask Google to remove political content, citing defamation, privacy, or copyright laws.
National security is the most quoted reason, accounting for 27% of all the requests. Requests from Russia on national security grounds make up the majority of submissions in this category.
“It is also mainly responsible for a huge (over 300%) increase in such requests in 2022,” the study said, indicating the year Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has dominated the list since 2014, the year it annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Before that, it didn’t even make the top three, the research noted, with Turkey the country with the most content removal requests in 2013.
In 2022, Russian authorities asked Google to remove a site that documents civilian casualties in Ukraine and YouTube videos and comments related to partial military mobilization in Russia, among some examples shared by Surfshark.
“Also, the Russian government tries to control how citizens perceive its partner country, China. For example, there have been cases of the Russian government asking to remove URLs leading to Wikipedia articles about Xi Jinping,” the study said.
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