Site shows government intervention on Google services

Google Inc. has trotted out an interactive tool that it says shows government-induced blocks and disruptions of the search company’s services.

Called Transparency Report, the new website features a section called Traffic where people can check the levels of availability of multiple Google services in different countries.

Transparency Report also houses a previously launched interactive map that displays a digest, by country, of government demands for access to and removal of content and data hosted on Google services like Blogger, Gmail and YouTube.

“We believe that this kind of transparency can be a deterrent to censorship,” said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, in a blog post on Tuesday.

The move could be seen partly as an attempt by Google to turn the tables on governments, which often criticize the company for what they perceive as Google’s overly aggressive and secretive collection of data about its users.

Specifically, Google regularly faces government questions and concerns about its data collection on users’ activities on Google sites for advertising profiling purposes.

Google is also currently on the hot seat in many countries over its harvesting of Web surfing data from wireless networks through its Street View service, something Google has called a mistake and said it has stopped doing.

Eddan Katz, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of international affairs, called the launch of Transparency Report “most welcome” to give people an idea of the pressures, sometimes excessive, that governments put on companies like Google.

“Google’s move in releasing this information and in trying to make it so that even more information is available [in the future] is a positive step in protecting users,” he said.

It would also be good if Google also provided information about the requests for data and for content removal that it receives from private companies and individuals, albeit in a way that offers the necessary privacy protections for those involved, he said.

However, this Transparency Report effort doesn’t get Google off the hook with regards to the issue of its collection of user data and how it uses and shares it, especially with marketers, Katz stressed.

“It’s very good that Google is doing this. It should be praised and should continue to do this. But it shouldn’t give Google a pass on other practices,” Katz said.

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