Google controls 63 percent of the world's Internet searches. It also owns YouTube, where 13 hours of content are uploaded every minute. It's the most influential company on the wild, wild Web, controlling more of what we view and how we view it than anyone else.
With this power come requests to remove content from around the world, but Google is not as interested in censoring as much it is in ensuring its presence worldwide. The one mandate? "Be everywhere, get arrested nowhere, and thrive in as many places as possible."
Flagged YouTube content goes straight to 20-something reviewers in its California office, but requests coming from governments quickly work their way up Google's chain of command. If content violates a country's law or YouTube terms of service, it's immediately removed; however, not all requests are so black and white.
So what's being removed? To find out,
- Holocaust-denial sites from Google search engines in France and Germany. Why? Denying the Holocaust is illegal in both countries.
- After protesters outside the Google India office demanded a group be removed from Orkut, a social networking site, Google half complied. It removed content that criticized religion — illegal in India — but left content critical of political parties.
- In Thailand where it's illegal to criticize the king, videos were removed after government threats to block all Thai IP addresses. While videos attacking the king were removed, those that simply offended the government remained.
- Think this doesn't happen in the US? Senator Joe Lieberman's requests to remove so-called jihadist videos were initially denied because the content did not violate US law. However the videos were later removed after YouTube edited its guidelines, prohibiting videos that "incite violence.” The angry followup after the initial denial to Google's CEO couldn't have hurt either!
Since most requests come complete with threats to block entire countries, I can't blame Google for wanting to work it out. Even Google agrees that self-censoring is not a long-term solution, but the best option for now. Considering Google is far more permissive of free speech than many strict countries, I can't say I disagree. But with such a conflict of interest, how long can Google be trusted?