Complying with requests for content removal is on rise at Google

Google has either fully or partially complied with 63 percent of the requests for content removal between January and June, according to a recent transparency report.

This is a 70-percent rise compared to the previous reporting period.

The transparency report said there were a total of 757 items requested to be removed and 92 content removal requests from government agencies and courts for reasons including allegations of defamation, copyright, privacy and security or claims that the content violates laws prohibiting hate speech and pornography.

Tim Boudreau, associate professor of journalism at Central Michigan University, said because Google is a private company, it can largely censor content.

“The First Amendment bars the government from abridging our rights, but it doesn't bar private companies,” he said.

Boudreau said it is entirely up to the company whether or not to remove or allow content that was requested to be removed, unless the requests are dealing with copyright infringement.

“Google users and the American people generally, especially Internet users, are accustomed to a free-wheeling, anything-goes medium with few limits,” he said. “Those users would likely bring pressure to bear on Google if the company began acting as a censor.”

Ken Sanney, assistant professor of business law and regulation, said Google automatically has liability for copyright infringement because it is a common meeting place for technology users.

He said the Constitution created the copyright law before the First Amendment was enforced.

“The two have to be read to be harmonious with one another. The two have to co-exist,” Sanney said.

He said Google is not particularly infringing on free speech laws by accepting removal requests because every law has its limits.

“The limit to the first amendment is when you endanger others or you violate their property rights,” Sanney said.

Google is protected because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, he said, which provided a safe-harbor for Internet service providers from being held liable for copyright infringement.

“If Google receives a take-down notice for something that has been copyrighted, however, they must take it down,” he said.

As a private company, Google chose to comply in 63 percent of the cases for some sort of infringement, he said.

Sanney said it gets complicated to determine what is appropriate as far as what can be posted online.

“It’s hard to know who makes the determination as to what is a threat to national security,” he said. “What is threatening to national security to one might be pure political speech to another.”

He said Google is ultimately trying to manage their risk and reach a balance between being user-friendly and managing violations to copyright infringement and defamation.

“They are trying to comply with the law, but at the same time, have a robust business that people still want to post on,” Sanney said.

He said the law is having a hard time keeping up with fast-paced technology.

“It’s impossible to filter through everything,” Sanney said.


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