‘Transparency Report’ Helps Google Erase Evil Image


The media is abuzz about the findings of Google's "transparency report," released to the public on Sunday, June 17. And transparent it is. The biannual document reports on three main areas: real-time and historical traffic to Google services around the world; numbers of removal requests Google receives from copyright owners or governments; numbers of user data requests Google receives from government agencies and courts.

By far the biggest media draw to the data within the report is the number of removal requests Google receives from copyright owners or governments, including the U.S. government. In fact, across the board, requests to remove content are up worldwide. "It's alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship," Dorothy Chou, a senior policy analyst at Google, wrote in a blog post on Sunday.

What's interesting from a communications point of view is not so much the content of the report, but Google's concept and strategy around the report. Until March 2010, Google had been roundly criticized for adhering to China's Internet censorship policies (termed "The Great Firewall of China), possibly assisting the Chinese government in repressing its own citizens and putting some Chinese government dissidents in danger.

This perception clearly clashed with Google's "Do No Evil" message. Then, in January 2010, Google announced that it was no longer censoring results on Google.cn after the company's servers were hacked in an apparent attempt to get information on Chinese dissidents. But the damage to Google's reputation was done.

The "transparency report," which debuted in 2010, lays out attempts at censorship not only in China but from countries around the world. From the looks of initial media coverage about the report, Google is being applauded for revealing a disturbing trend that might have dangerous global repercussions. Even the biggest cynics have to admit that the report is a solid strategic response to those critical of Google's past handling of censorship issues. It puts the problem squarely on the shoulders of world governments—and not on Google, for a change.

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