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Google clarifies its global censorship policy

No MidEast government has asked for specific content to be removed, says company exec

Google clarifies its global censorship policy
Google censors all its products including Search.

Search giant Google has clarified its global censorship policy following its high-profile decision to stop censoring search results in China and revealed that no Gulf country has approached them to remove specific content or disclose user data as yet.

Google products, including Blogger and YouTube, have been blocked in 25 of the 100 countries where the company offers its services, with the firm ‘regularly' receiving requests from governments around the world to restrict or remove certain content from their products.

"When we receive those requests, we examine them closely to ensure they comply with the law, and if we think they're overly broad, we attempt to narrow them down. Where possible, we are also transparent with our users about what content we have been required to block or remove so they understand that they may not be getting the full picture," explains Rachel Whetstone, VP of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google.

Google recently released a map depicting which government agencies asked them to remove content or provide data on specific users. Though the figures are not meant to indicate whether Google complied with those requests, countries including Australia, Canada, India, Israel, the United States of Ameria and the United Kingdom all feature on the list. Gulf countries, however, are noticeably absent.

While that may lead some to believe that statistics for Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been left out, Joanne Kubba, manager of MENA Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google, clarified to itp.net that that is not the case and there have been no requests for removal of content or the disclosure of user data from countries in the Arab world.

Google deals with the the issue of controversial content internally in different ways depending on the product - Search, platforms that host content such as YouTube and Picasa or its advertising offerings which have the most restrictive policies because "they are commercial products intended to generate revenue."

Out of all three, Google's Search is considered to be the least restricted with the company only removing content in ‘narrow circumstances' such as those related child pornography, links to copyrighted material, spam, malware and results that contain confidential personal information like credit card numbers.

Google's platforms for hosting content such as Blogger, YouTube, and Picasa Web Albums have content policies that outline what is permissible on those sites.

Pornography is strictly not allowed on YouTube and the popular video sharing site adheres to local laws where access to content deemed illegal is restricted, but only within that country. Last year, the Dubai Police talked about wiping out 'smut' online with the cooperation of Google with the country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) deciding what is deemed acceptable for the nation online.

According to the company, Turkey's decision to block YouTube a few years ago stems from a Turkish court's demand that they block videos insulting founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk globally and not just within the country. Google did not comply, arguing that "Turkish law cannot apply outside Turkey" and access to the site was subsequently blocked within the country.

Despite the clarifications, Google admits that their policies are constantly changing and that sometimes the team is left to rely on their own judgement, which is bent towards the right to free expression, according to Whetstone.

"We are driven by a belief that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual," she concluded.

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