Corporate Transparency and user information privacy are hot issues on the net, and with bigger and bigger services, people are becoming more aware that their information is not solely accessible by those whom they decide to share it with. Their information might be shared with hackers, nosy friends, and even governments! Google has released a couple of new services that will address privacy issues and raise the level of transparency that Google has about its interaction with the governments of the world.
The Evolution of a Poking Tool
After Google’s scuffles with the Chinese government and their services being banned in mainland China, Google released a monitoring tool that allows it to keep tabs on China’s blocks of its service and helps inform its users of them. The new tool builds on the “up-time monitor” and expands it to provide information about the traffic from about 200 countries, in it you will be able to get updated information about blocks and traffic to 17 Google services including Youtube. So blockades such as Pakistan’s 10-day censorship of Youtube in protest for the “draw Mohammed Day” in March can be clearly seen using the Transparency Traffic Report tool, data is delayed by 30-hours so that Google can ensure its authenticity before releasing it to the public.
The second tool tracks government requests to Google, these include requests for removal of data, or requests for information about certain users or activities. The Government Request transparency tool tracks information since July 2009, and based on the information that is currently available, the US is at first place for the number of information requests over the last 6 months – 4287 – followed by Brazil with 2435.
Those numbers do not provide a comprehensive tally of all requests that Google receives, for instance it doesn’t include FISA warrants or national security letters issued by the FBI which averaged at around 50,000 requests a year during the post-patriot act era. It also does not include removal requests by private parties which compromise the majority of copyright infringement removal, and neither does it include automatic removals by Google.
Decreasing the Opacity
This is certainly a start, and an unprecedented move that is unmatched by any other company such as Twitter, Facebook, AOL or any others. As a matter of fact, those companies keep tight lips about these issues and refuse requests for access to this information by media even though there is no law restricting the access to such information.
This level of transparency will clarify the environment and risks that exist and will provide a counter weight to countries arguing their lack of censorship. But whether this is a genuine move from an old school Google crew or this is just a PR stunt by the Google spin doctors trying to polish their tarnished image after news of their deal with Verizon came to light. Either way, I encourage people to check the tools out and I’m certain that they will earn a mention in the next HRW report at the end of the year and will be cited as evidence to support claims made in the report.
What do you think of the new tools? Do you think the answer for privacy and security concern is an increase in transparency? Share with us your thought in the comment section below.