You write something about me and post it on the web. I don't like it. I petition Google to take it down. I'm successful ... or I'm not. From June to December 2011, Hungary made 154 requests to remove content from the Web - and failed each time. Thailand, on the other hand, was successful in its appeal to have 149 YouTube videos censored because they offended the Thai king. From Google's perspective, this action was justifiable under local law.
Since 2009, Google has released five transparency reports, the most recent publishing last month. The report is in fact a list of requests and court-orders Google received from governments around the world (1,935 requests to remove content from its search results and take down content from its web platforms (Youtube, Orkut, Blogger), and 34,001 requests for user data). In a very interesting blog post, Jacob Parry notes that more governments in Eastern Europe were monitoring the online activity of their citizens than ever before. Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Hungary appeared again, while Ukraine and the Czech Republic are on the list for the first time.
The question of complying or not complying with these requests is firmly rooted in local law. As Parry points out, What might be censorship in one country, could be justifiable in another [...] Grounds for compliance include defamation, hate speech, pornography, the incitement of violence, and security concerns.
On 4 July this year, American Independence Day, Twitter followed suit and released its own transparency report. Interestingly, Japan tops the list with 98 requests for user information, followed in by Canada and the UK on 11.
Note to self: add transparency reports to list of required reading.