Google: the number of requests from governments to remove online content is up.

Google: The number of requests from governments to remove online content is up. Photo: Rob Homer

Google saw a big jump in early 2013 in the number of requests from governments around the world to remove online content, in many cases for political reasons.

In an update to its "Transparency Report" for the first half of 2013, Google said it saw a 68 per cent jump in the number of requests from the prior six-month period, led by big increases from Turkey and Russia.

The updated report "is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online [but] it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests," said Google legal director Susan Infantino in a blog post.

"As we continue to add data, we hope it will become increasingly useful and informative in policy debates and decisions around the world."

From January to June 2013, Google received 3846 government requests to remove 24737 pieces of content from around the world. It removed content in 36 per cent of cases, including 54 per cent in response to court orders.

In Australia, the search giant received 19 removal requests relating to 26 pieces of content, and it complied 42 per cent of the time.

This was up slightly from 16 requests in the period of July to December 2012. However, in that period the requests related to 145 items and Google complied 31 per cent of the time.

"Over the past four years, one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content," Infantino said.

"Judges have asked us to remove information that's critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don't want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes."

She said officials "often cite defamation, privacy and even copyright laws in attempts to remove political speech from our services."

In Turkey, the number of content removal requests rose by 966 per cent, Google said.

That included a court order to remove search results linking to information about a political official and sex scandals – which Google did not remove. Google also ignored requests from a Turkish government agency to remove a blog that contained information about the Kurdish party and Kurdish activists as well as a Google+ profile picture showing a map of Kurdistan.

In Russia, the number of requests rose 125 per cent. That included 235 requests to remove content violating a Russian internet restriction law, of which Google removed 115 items

In the US, Google received 27 requests from a federal government agency to suspend 89 apps from the Google Play store that allegedly infringed on trademarks, and removed 76 of the apps.

Google received a request in Argentina to remove a Google "autocomplete" search entry linking a politician's name with an illicit drug, but did not comply.

In Cyprus, Google got a request to remove names of disputed territories in a map, but refused to comply.

AFP/Fairfax Media