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Google's 'Transparency Report' sketchy, inconclusive: Government

by Prasad Krishna last modified Nov 22, 2012 07:39 AM
Google calls it the 'Transparency Report', but as far as Indian authorities are concerned, it is anything but. The world's largest Internet company this week published its latest half-yearly findings on government requests for access to personal information, showing that both the number of requests and the rate of denials have risen. The data, according to the world's largest democracy, are too sketchy for any clear conclusions to be drawn.

This article by Indu Nandakumar was published in the Economic Times on November 17, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.

The skirmish is happening during a year in which relations between the Indian government and Internet companies deteriorated, with demands to take down fake Twitter handles and web pages that the former said threatened the security of regional and religious minorities.

The sum and substance of the 'Transparency Report' is that government authorities have increased the number of requests they make for personal information of user accounts on Google-owned services, including YouTube and Gmail. Google, on the other hand, has been denying the requests at a higher rate since it first started publishing the half-yearly report in 2010.

"If we believe a request is overly broad, we seek to narrow it. We may refuse to remove content or produce information, or try to narrow the request in some cases if it was not specific enough," a Google spokesman told ET. In an emailed statement, Google said it respects the legal process in India, but is keen to meet both the letter and spirit of the law before complying.

According to Google, in the first half of 2012, various arms of the Indian government made 2,319 requests but Google "partially or fully" complied with only 64% of those, compared with 70% in the same period in 2011 and nearly 80% in 2010. The government requests also sought information about 3,467 user accounts.

The department of information technology deflected requests for comment to the office of Gulshan Rai, director of India's Cyber Emergency Response Team.

India Big Market for Google

Rai said Google must "transparently" share the data pertaining to requests received by them. "It's Google data, which cannot be accessed by anybody else," he said. "We have been speaking to Google for over a year now to streamline this process and bring in more transparency, but they never came around."

What this could mean is that the government does not have a central repository of all requests for personal information by Indian authorities. So, by depending solely on Google, the government may be leaving itself in a position where it cannot challenge the authenticity of information in the Internet company's report. India's a significant market for Google, which has over 100 million users here with an over 95% market share of the Internet search market, according to research firm StatCounter. Google employs nearly 1,535 engineers in India. In August, the department of electronics & information technology sought 412 web pages hosted on Google to be blocked in connection with the controversial movie "Innocence of Muslims" as well as the mass exodus to the North-East states following riots in Assam.

"Google invariably tends to be more subjective on the adequacy of the request. Earlier they were more inclined to accept government requests. Now with the increase in the number of requests, especially since the 26/11 attacks, there is an exercise to examine the adequacy," said Pawan Duggal, a Supreme Court lawyer specialising in cyber law.

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