Google Public Policy BLOG

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Google's views on government, policy and politics.
Updated: 1 hour 11 min ago

The House of Representatives steps up the fight against human trafficking

Wed, 2015/01/28 - 12:32
Posted by Susan Molinari, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy
There are few issues more horrifying than human slavery and trafficking. Yesterday, the House of Representatives took important steps to address these issues by passing twelve bills aimed at helping the victims and calling attention to these criminal acts. We are encouraged by the actions taken yesterday and applaud the House’s leadership.
We recently heard about a number of these bills from Members of both the House and Senate at an event Google hosted with the McCain Institute and Rights4Girls. In addition to the launch of the No Such Thing campaign to eradicate the term “child prostitute,” we heard from organizations on the frontlines of the modern anti-trafficking movement, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Polaris, and Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, about how they are using technology to stop human trafficking and help those who have been trafficked. You can watch the event here and here.
Collaboration and technology are key weapons in the fight. That’s why Google recently launched a new feature in our search results with Polaris, connecting victims of human trafficking with organizations who can help. We also worked with Polaris, La Strada International, and Liberty Asia to launch the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, to connect global hotlines and better help victims and prevention efforts. Google also has a zero-tolerance policy for any ads for paid sex acts, and we work around the clock to fight illegal content and abuse on our platforms.
Fighting human slavery and trafficking is not a partisan issue. The more voices who say it is morally unacceptable to enslave and exploit humans, the more we can reduce the demand and help the victims. There’s more work to be done, so let’s keep going — together.

Transparency Report: New numbers and a new look for government requests

Sat, 2015/01/17 - 00:02
Posted by: Trevor Callaghan, Director, Legal

We launched the Transparency Report in 2010 to show how laws and policies affect access to information online, including law enforcement orders for user data and government requests to remove information. Since then, many other companies have launched their own transparency reports, and we’ve been excited to see our industry come together around transparency.

After doing things the same way for nearly five years, we thought it was time to give the Transparency Report an update. So today, as we release data about requests from governments to remove content from our services for the ninth time, we’re doing it with a new look and some new features that we hope will make the information more meaningful, and continue to push the envelope on the story we can tell with this kind of information.

More about that shortly—first, the data highlights. From June to December 2013, we received 3,105 government requests to remove 14,637 pieces of content. You may notice that this total decreased slightly from the first half of 2013; this is due to a spike in requests from Turkey during that period, which has since returned to lower levels. Meanwhile, the number of requests from Russia increased by 25 percent compared to the last reporting period. Requests from Thailand and Italy are on the rise as well. In the second half of 2013, the top three products for which governments requested removals were Blogger (1,066 requests), Search (841 requests) and YouTube (765 requests). In the second half of 2013, 38 percent of government removal requests cited defamation as a reason for removal, 16 percent cited obscenity or nudity, and 11 percent cited privacy or security.

As for the redesign, we’ve worked with our friends at Blue State Digital on a more interactive Transparency Report that lets us include additional information—like explanations of our process—and highlight stats. We’ve also added examples of nearly 30 actual requests we’ve received from governments around the world. For example, we have an annotation that gives a bit of descriptive information about our first government request from Kosovo, when law enforcement requested the removal of two YouTube videos showing minors fighting. If you’re looking for details on the content types and reasons for removal, use the Country explorer to dig into those details for each of the listed countries.*

Our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online. However, it does provide a lens on the things that governments and courts ask us to remove, underscoring the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests. We hope that you'll take the time to explore the new report to learn more about the government removals across Google.

*Update Jan 16: We updated the 'Country Explorer' section of the Transparency Report on January 16, 2015 to correct inaccuracies in the initially reported Government Requests figures.

UPDATE: Helping Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Victims Around the World

Mon, 2015/01/12 - 16:14
According to the U.S. Trafficking In Persons Report, there may be more than 20 million trafficking victims at any time in the world, but only about 40,000 victims are identified each year. To connect victims of human trafficking to the organizations who can help them, we recently launched a new feature that displays human trafficking hotline numbers when users type in relevant keywords in search.
In July 2014, we launched this feature for the U.S., Japan and South Korea and today we are making it available in 9 more countries in 14 different languages. From working with our partners across the globe, we know that these hotlines play an indispensable role in the fight against human trafficking. Victims may be unfamiliar with support agencies or organizations in their area or unaware there is help available at all.
These hotlines can make life-changing connections to services like crisis response, emergency housing, counseling, and legal aid at the moment victims need them. Confidential hotlines make certain victims receive the anonymity and protection they need to stay safe.

This search feature was made possible because of the work the following organizations do every day to fight human trafficking around the world: Polaris (US), Lighthouse Support Center for Human Trafficking Victims (Japan), Dasi Hamkke Center (South Korea), Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (Taiwan), La Strada (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine), The A21 Campaign (Greece), ASTRA Anti-Trafficking Action (Serbia), and International Organization for Migration (Turkey).
Since the launch, this feature has already helped National Human Trafficking Resource Center to identify at least 25 human trafficking cases in the U.S. We hope that many more human trafficking victims and potential victims will be able to discover the help that they need when they need it.
Posted by Kasumi Widner, Program Manager, Social Impact and Chris Busselle, Principal, Google.org

The MPAA’s Attempt to Revive SOPA Through A State Attorney General

Fri, 2014/12/19 - 13:28
Posted by Kent Walker, SVP and General Counsel
We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means, and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood.
Almost three years ago, millions of Americans helped stop a piece of congressional legislation—supported by the MPAA—called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If passed, SOPA would have led to censorship across the web. No wonder that 115,000 websites—including Google—participated in a protest, and over the course of a single day, Congress received more than 8 million phone calls and 4 million emails, as well as getting 10 million petition signatures.
Here is what recent press reports have revealed over the past few days about the MPAA’s campaign:
The MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA’s goals through non-legislative meansAccording to The Verge, “at the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios … joined together to begin a new campaign” to figure how it could secretly revive SOPA. It “joined together to begin a new campaign” to achieve wholesale site-blocking by “[convincing] state prosecutors to take up the fight against [Google].” The movie studios “budgeted $500,000 a year towards providing legal support”—and the MPAA later sought up to $1.175 million for this campaign.
The MPAA pointed its guns at Google With that money, the MPAA then hired its long-time law firm Jenner & Block to go after Google while also funding an astroturf group—the Digital Citizens Alliance—with the same goal of attacking Google. (Source: The New York Times).
The MPAA did the legal legwork for the Mississippi State Attorney GeneralThe MPAA then pitched Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood, an admitted SOPA supporter, and Attorney General Hood sent Google a letter making numerous accusations about the company. The letter was signed by General Hood but was actually drafted by an attorney at Jenner & Block—the MPAA’s law firm. As the New York Times has reported, the letter was only minimally edited by the state Attorney General before he signed it. Here is what the document showed about its true origin:We've redacted the name of the attorney to protect her privacy
Even though Google takes industry-leading measures in dealing with problematic content on our services, Attorney General Hood proceeded to send Google a sweeping 79-page subpoena, covering a variety of topics over which he lacks jurisdiction. The Verge reported that the MPAA and its members discussed such subpoenas and certainly knew about this subpoena’s existence before it was even sent to Google.
Attorney General Hood told the Huffington Post earlier this week that the MPAA "has no major influence on my decision-making,” and that he “has never asked [the] MPAA a legal question” and “isn't sure which lawyers they employ.” And yet today the Huffington Post and the Verge revealed that Attorney General Hood had numerous conversations with both MPAA staff and Jenner & Block attorneys about this matter.
While we of course have serious legal concerns about all of this, one disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part “to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists' right to free expression.” Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?
UPDATE - Friday, December 19: Because Attorney General Hood's 79-page subpoena constitutes an unjustified attack that violates well-established U.S. laws governing Internet platforms and online intermediaries, we are today asking a federal court to set that subpoena aside (our brief is here). We are also asking those with a hand in this campaign to preserve all relevant documents.  We regret having to take this matter to court, and we are doing so only after years of efforts to explain both the merits of our position and the extensive steps we've taken on our platforms.

Powerful new tools in Arabic and English for constitution drafters and citizens

Mon, 2014/12/15 - 12:18
Those who write (and re-write) national constitutions naturally learn and draw from the work of other drafters. Constitute, a website that digitizes and indexes the world’s constitutions which Google Ideas launched in 2013 with the Comparative Constitutions Project, has made this process even easier.
Today marks the launch of Constitute in Arabic, which promises to make the process of constitutional drafting and analysis more accessible across the Arab world. The site now provides Arabic translations of some of the world’s most-cited constitutions, coupled with powerful analytical tools.
We’re also introducing new, powerful features across the English and Arabic versions of the site. A new “compare” functionality lets you view two constitutions side-by-side, inviting an entirely different perspective. Curious how the Japanese Constitution of 1946, drafted under U.S. occupation, compares to that of the U.S.?  View them side-by-side and compare them provision by provision (for example, on the topic of search and seizure rights) in a clean, easy-to-read layout.
Constitute also includes new options for saving and sharing content. You can now pin constitutional excerpts, comparisons and entire searches, and export the results to for easy collaborative drafting, reading or analysis. You can also share to social media, or send links to specific locations in any of the documents—for example, explore which African constitutions have provisions on gender equality. 
Finally, developers and data enthusiasts—and their machine counterparts—will be able to build upon Constitute’s underlying data through an open data portal which includes access to Constitute’s API.
On average, five new constitutions are written every year and even more are amended. Creating a document to serve as the bedrock of one’s society is a huge undertaking, which is why Google Ideas collaborated with the Comparative Constitutions Project to seed Constitute in 2013. We hope today’s additions to Constitute will help equip constitutional drafters and citizens of every country with the remarkable power of knowledge.
Posted by Brett Perlmutter, Special Projects Lead, Google Ideas

Tackling Teen Substance Abuse: New Online Tools for Families Seeking Answers

Thu, 2014/11/20 - 17:12
Earlier this year, we began working with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to help people find helpful information about substance abuse online.  This is a guest post from their President and CEO, Steve Pasierb, describing our efforts together and the organization’s ongoing work to keep teens safe. -Ed

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and helping families impacted by addiction. We are the only family-focused nonprofit that provides resources and direct support to help families prevent and cope with teen drug and alcohol abuse.

The modern path to substance abuse looks very different than it did when today's parents were teens themselves. As we all know, people are spending more of their time online, across a variety of connected devices.  As a result, it’s increasingly important for our information to be accessible anytime, on the web and in mobile apps.

Thanks to a recent donation from Google, we’ve created innovative new content and tools that will help countless families find answers in the midst of a crisis, or before one ever happens.

Since beginning our work together in April, Google has funded search advertising campaigns, helped develop a mobile app with substance abuse-related information, improved our website, and plans to revamp our YouTube channel.  All of this is complemented by their ongoing efforts to fight rogue online pharmacies — Google has removed more than 7 million ads for these outfits this year alone. This work makes it harder for people to buy controlled substances online without a valid prescription, thereby reducing illicit access to these medications and reducing abuse.  
Search advertising campaigns funded by Google

Users will be able to find information about substance-abuse including: images, common slang terms, short- and long-term effects of each drug, and how to get help in our upcoming mobile app
Our national action campaign, the Medicine Abuse Project, is rallying parents, educators, health care providers, communities, and law enforcement to collectively help prevent half a million teens from abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter cough medicine.  Thanks to invaluable partners like Google, we are able to expand our reach, sharpen our tools and help parents navigate the teen years with help at their fingertips.
Posted by Steve Pasierb, President and CEO, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Investigathon: Helping investigative journalists access information through the Investigative Dashboard

Wed, 2014/11/12 - 11:43
As the old saying goes, “News is something somebody wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising.” We agree: Investigative journalism is a crucial pillar of free societies. That’s why we’re holding an “Investigathon” in New York City to share and practice new ways to make investigations more powerful.
It all starts with data. With the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, we’ve built the Investigative Dashboard to help investigators trace shell company ownership around the world. At the Investigathon, 100 investigators of all stripes will spend the afternoon learning to use the Dashboard and other datasets to trace Eastern European money laundering activities. So many public records are already available to search, sometimes it’s just a question of knowing how to look.
Data only goes so far without tools. That’s why we’ve also been working with Overview Project to make it easier to sift through huge volumes of business records. The world doesn’t need more isolated platforms, so Overview Project will soon have standardized APIs to integrate directly into the Investigative Dashboard, Visual Investigative Scenarios, and beyond.
Finally, knowledge spreads through personal relationships based on trust, so we’re hoping to play a small role in strengthening the investigative journalism community on the East Coast. When we held our inaugural Investigathon in London, there was so much enthusiasm that Hacks/Hackers, Bellingcat, and OCCRP decided to run six-month series of follow-up workshops and convenings to support the work we started there.
The challenges of investigative journalists are immense, and the forces arranged against them are formidable. But if people are to have free and open access to the truths about their societies, investigators must stay one step ahead of those who would want to suppress that information. We aim to help, one step at a time.
Posted by Justin Kosslyn, Product Manager, Google Ideas

It’s time to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens

Wed, 2014/11/12 - 09:07
Cross-posted from the Google Europe Blog 

Last summer’s Snowden revelations not only highlighted the urgent need for surveillance reform but also severely damaged relations between the US and Europe.

Google and many other technology companies have urged the US to take the lead and introduce reforms that ensure government surveillance activity is clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight. Sadly, we’ve seen little serious reform to date.

However, the US Government can signal a new attitude when representatives of the European Commission visit Washington DC tomorrow. Right now, European citizens do not have the right to challenge misuse of their data by the US government in US courts -- even though American citizens already enjoy this right in most European countries. It’s why Google supports legislation to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens. The Obama Administration has already pledged its support for this change and we look forward to to working with Congress to try and make this happen.

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. The emergence of ISIS and other new threats have reminded us all of the dangers we face. But the balance in the US and many other countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As President Obama recently instructed his Intelligence agencies: “All persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.”

Posted by David Drummond Chief Legal Officer, Google

Continued progress on fighting piracy

Fri, 2014/10/17 - 10:00
Today we’re publishing a refreshed How Google Fights Piracy report, which explains how we combat piracy across our services. This new version updates many of the numbers from the 2013 version and lists a few other developments in the past year:
  • Ad formats. We’ve been testing new ad formats in search results on queries related to music and movies that help people find legitimate sources of media. For the relatively small number of queries for movies that include terms like “download,”  “free,” or “watch,” we’ve begun to show the following:
We’re also testing other ways of pointing people to legitimate sources of music and movies, including in the right-hand panel on the results page:These results show in the U.S. only, but we plan to continue investing in this area and plan to expand internationally.
  • An improved DMCA demotion signal in Search. In August 2012 we first announced that we would downrank sites for which we received a large number of valid DMCA notices. We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week.
  • Removing more terms from autocomplete, based on DMCA removal notices. We’ve begun demoting autocomplete predictions that return results with many DMCA demoted sites.

Every day our partnership with the entertainment industry deepens. Just this month we launched a collaboration with Paramount Pictures to promote their upcoming film “Interstellar” with an interactive website. And Content ID (our system for rightsholders to easily identify and manage their content on YouTube) recently hit the milestone of enabling more than $1 billion in revenue to the content industry.
In addition to strengthening these relationships, we continue to invest in combating piracy across all our services.
Posted by Katherine Oyama, Sr. Copyright Policy Counsel