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Google tuts at gov caginess with Transparency Report

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Google is spotlighting governments that don’t play nice with the all-seeing search giant, by releasing a so-called “Transparency Report”.

Google quickly fell into line with China recently by halting a redirect of Google.cn visitors to the ad broker’s Hong Kong servers, after Beijing officials threatened to pull the plug on Google’s search engine.

But now that Mountain View has had its Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence renewed by China, the company is once again pushing its tarnished “don't be evil” agenda.

Yesterday it launched tools that show users when governments around the world are censoring content or, worse still – for Chocolate Factory boss Eric Schmidt at least – altogether blocking Google services.

“When Google’s services are blocked or filtered, we can’t serve our users effectively. That’s why we act every day to maximise free expression and access to information,” said the firm’s top legal man David Drummond in a blog post.

“To promote transparency around this flow of information, we’ve built an interactive online Transparency Report with tools that allow people to see where governments are demanding that we remove content and where Google services are being blocked. We believe that this kind of transparency can be a deterrent to censorship.”

Drummond added an important disclaimer to his delicate attack against countries who want to control what their citizens can and can’t view via Google, by noting that the company’s services are sometimes hit with “traffic disruptions”.

But it’s not always Google’s fault, he said.

“Our new traffic tracking tool helps us and others track whether these interruptions are related to mechanical outages or are government-induced,” Drummond said.

The global tool, which displays graphs that show “historic traffic patterns for a given country and service,” replaces Google’s Mainland China availability chart.

The company has also updated its Government Requests map website, which carries data from the first six months of 2010 showing the number of gov inquiries for information about users and requests for Google to take down or censor content.

“Free expression is one of our core values. We believe that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. Free expression is, of course, also at the heart of Google’s business. Our products are specifically designed to help people create, communicate, share opinions and find information across the globe,” said Drummond.

“We hope this step toward greater transparency—and these tools—will help in ongoing discussions about the free flow of information.”

Google has lately been bashed by privacy watchdogs all over the world for being sloppy with some of its user information, such as the recent Street View data slurp cockup and the stealth bolt-on of drag-me-to-Web2.0-hell Buzz in its Gmail service. ®

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