Russian government requests to Google to remove content grew by 71% in 2022

The Russian government has been the most active in asking to remove content from Google for years. In 2022, the number of requests increased by 71 percent. But unlike what Google displays on its website, it mostly complied with takedown requests from Russian authorities.

© Solen Feyissa

Google processes millions of notices daily, filed mainly by copyright holders, to remove content on their products like YouTube, web search, Google Image, Google Maps, Gmail, Google ads, etc. They also remove any child sexual abuse imagery if they detect it without a request.

But Alphabet, Google’s parent company, also receives requests for removing content by governments at various levels from court orders, national and local government agencies, or law enforcement professionals.

And the Russian government was by far the most active in seeking content removal in 2022, with 58,000 requests, according to Google’s Transparency report.

While Yandex is Russia‘s most popular search engine, the country alone accounted for 64 percent of all government requests to Google. They have always been the country making the most requests for content removal from Google products.

But since Russia invaded Ukraine on January 2022, the number of requests grew by 71 percent for the year, with even further activity during the second half of the year, proving once again that battles also take place in the field of communication.

In 2020 and 2021, nearly half of the Russian requests were related to copyright issues, according to the report. Requests motivated by national security reasons accounted for 19 percent (5,900) and 23 percent (7,800).

But in 2022, national security was the reason for 61 percent of the 58,000 requests to remove content online.

For instance, Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency responsible for censorship, requested to remove 63 videos and comments from YouTube related to the partial Russian military mobilization announced in September 2022. In this case, Google only restricted access to 1 video on YouTube in Russia because it advised using poison to avoid partial mobilization.

Google took down 88% of the content denounced by Russian authorities in 2022

Requests from Russian authorities to take down content on Google
The number of requests from Russian authorities to take down content on Google by semester. They increased by 71% in 2022 | © Google

In late January 2022, Roskomnadzor added 636 URLs about the president of China, Xi Jinping, to its search engine blocklist, including his Wikipedia page in Chinese, Russian, and English, as well as news articles from the Economist, The New York Times, or BBC. Google didn’t delist the web pages either because they didn’t appear in Google search results or because of the lack of information about the reason for the request.

A Russian court also fined Google 372.5 million dollars for not removing 27 YouTube videos as requested by Roskomnadzor. The videos were related to the war in Ukraine and included “political speeches, official news coverage and commentary from popular bloggers,” according to Google’s report. The American company appealed the court order.

But overall, Google’s website seems to erroneously display that they didn’t take any action for most items requested to be taken down by Russian authorities in 2022 and that they would have only removed a third of the items.

However, Google complied with content removal requests and took down 88 percent of the items denounced by Russian authorities, according to the data in the report and contrary to what Google shows on the website.

Data in the reports align with what is displayed online for other countries like South Korea, France or Australia. Google removed 46 percent of the items requested by South Korea for legal reasons in the second half of 2022.

Contacted about the inconsistency, Google didn’t change the data displayed on the site at the time of writing these lines.

In 2022, Google took down 52 percent of the items submitted by governments other than Russia.

In all countries and reasons combined, YouTube accounts for 61 percent of takedown requests, and nearly all requests for Russian national security concerns were made for content posted on YouTube.

On the other hand, Ukraine sent 89 requests to remove content, on par with the number of requests they issued in previous years.

The second country that submitted the most requests in 2022, as well as in previous years, was South Korea (9,600), primarily for privacy and security reasons, followed by India (5,300).

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