Government requests to remove content
We regularly receive requests from courts and government agencies around the world to remove information from Google products. Sometimes we receive court orders that don’t compel Google to take any action. Instead, they are submitted by an individual as support for a removal request. We closely review these requests to determine if content should be removed because it violates a law or our product policies. In this report, we disclose the number of requests we receive in six-month periods.
Removal requests by the numbers
Explore Requests from July to December 2015
Each reporting period, we highlight requests that are of public interest to provide a glimpse of the diverse range of content removal requests we receive.
Request: We received a court order to delist three URLs from Google Search. The content of the pages accuse a University Rector of assault against a student involved in political activism.
Outcome: We delisted three URLs from the google.com.ar domain.
Request: We received a court order to delist 11 URLs from Google Search and remove 15 YouTube videos reporting the death of a famous singer in a car crash.
Outcome: The court granted our appeal to narrow the scope of removal to restrict three videos showing the corpse and autopsy footage from view in Brazil.
Request: We received a request from the Délégation Interministérielle à la Lutte Contre le Racisme et l'Antisémitisme (DILCRA) to delist one URL from Google Search and two YouTube videos containing denial of the Holocaust and allegations that it was government-orchestrated propaganda.
Outcome: We delisted the URL from the google.fr domain. The videos were removed for violation of YouTube Community Guidelines.
Request: We received a copyright takedown notice on behalf of the city of Heidenau to remove a YouTube video that juxtaposed the town's anthem with footage of right-wing protesters clashing with riot police.
Outcome: Based on Heidenau's explicit confirmation that the content infringes their copyright and no copyright defenses, limitations or exceptions apply, we removed the YouTube video for copyright infringement. After the uploader filed a valid counter notification about the legal use of content, we reinstated the video.
Request: We received a request from the Head of Cyber Crime Division in Greece to remove a Blogger post claiming improper business practices by the chief of a Greek governmental agency.
Outcome: We did not remove the blog post.
Request: We received a request to delist two URLs from Google Search containing content critical of the work of the Ministry of Justice Director General. The publisher had some critical claims but he used many allegedly defamatory terms.
Outcome: We delisted two results from the google.co.il domain.
Request: We received a request from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to remove a YouTube video claiming that an elected official was involved in a criminal case.
Outcome: We did not remove the YouTube video.
Request: We received a court order to remove content from Google Search and YouTube showing hidden-camera footage about an extramarital affair of a mayor, a scandal that led to the introduction of a vote of no confidence by the city council.
Outcome: We delisted one URL from the google.nl domain and did not delist the remaining two URLS. We did not remove the YouTube videos as the content was no longer available.
Request: A complainant sent us an appeal to anonymize his name in relation to his conviction for sexual assault of a child. He claimed this appeal was a court order that mandated we remove news articles from Google Search about the assault. The actual document was a brief he filed but was dismissed in court.
Outcome: Since there was no court order, we refused to remove any URLs.
Request: The wife of the mayor of Johannesburg requested we delist articles from Google Search suggesting that her husband used his position to advance her economic interests.
Outcome: We did not delist any URLs.
Request: We received a request from Korea's Internet Security Agency to remove 299 YouTube videos that disclose personally identifiable information.
Outcome: We removed the videos for violating YouTube's Community Guidelines.
Request: We received a request from the Swiss Attorney General to remove a film about the Syrian Revolution from YouTube because it allegedly supports "a prohibited organization in its criminal activities through the use of propaganda (Art. 2 of the Fed Act)".
Outcome: We did not remove the videos.
Request: We received a court order to remove four Blogger posts that contain criticism of a prominent political figure in Turkey.
Outcome: We did not remove the blog posts.
United Arab Emirates
Request: We received a request from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to remove one YouTube video. The video contains footage of a member of the royal family torturing Sudanese workers in his farm.
Outcome: We did not remove the YouTube video for public interest purposes.
Request: We received a copyright takedown notice from the Greensboro Police Department to remove a YouTube video criticizing police brutality. The video briefly displays the department's logo.
Outcome: We asked the claimant to consider whether the video is protected by fair use and never heard back. We did not remove the video from YouTube.
Why governments request content removals
Governments ask us to remove or review content for many different reasons. For example, some requests allege defamation, while others claim that content violates local laws prohibiting hate speech or adult content. The laws surrounding these issues vary by country.
Since the launch of the Transparency Report in 2010, more than one-third of all government removal requests have cited defamation as a reason for removal.
From July to December 2015, 28% of government removal requests cited Defamation as a reason for removal, 17% cited Privacy and Security, and 15% cited National Security.
Government requests often target political content and government criticism. In attempts to remove political speech from our services, officials cite defamation, privacy, and even copyright laws.
How requests are made and processed
We receive content removal requests in a variety of ways and from all levels of government (e.g. court orders, written requests from national and local government agencies, and law enforcement professionals). Sometimes we'll be forwarded government removal requests from users, such as when someone attaches a court order showing certain content to be illegal.
Some requests ask for the removal of multiple pieces of content. Conversely, there may be multiple requests that ask for the removal of the same piece of content.
We always assess the legitimacy and completeness of a government request. In order for us to be able to properly evaluate a request, it must be made in writing, be as specific as possible about the content to be removed, and explain how the content is illegal.
There are many reasons why we might not remove content in response to a request. For example, some requests might not be specific enough for us to know what the government wants us to remove. In these cases, we ask for more information. Sometimes we don’t comply with requests because the content has already been removed by the content owner.
Sometimes we don’t comply with requests because they haven’t been made through appropriate channels. We ask for requests to be made in writing, rather than verbally. Sometimes written letters from agencies aren’t sufficient and a court order is necessary instead.
Products affected by requests
We most frequently receive government requests to remove content from Blogger, Search, and YouTube, although dozens of other products are also affected. Sometimes we even receive requests to remove content “from the Internet.”
Sometimes governments choose to disrupt Google products or services, rather than making requests to remove individual pieces of content.
From July to December 2015, the top three products for which governments requested removals were YouTube, Web Search, and Blogger. 1885, 1476, and 703 removal requests were made for each product, respectively.
From July to December 2015, governments from around the world requested that we remove 6144 items from YouTube. Of these, we removed 4242 items—3498 due to legal reasons, and 744 found to be violations of YouTube's Community Guidelines.