Jane Bambauer and Derek Bambauer, Vanished

Jane Bambauer and Derek Bambauer, Vanished

Comment by: Eric Goldman

PLSC 2013

Published version available here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2326236

Workshop draft abstract:

The conventional wisdom on Internet censorship assumes that the United States government makes fewer attempts to remove and delist content from the Internet than other democracies. Likewise, democratic governments are believed to make fewer attempts to control on-line content than the governments of non-democratic countries. These assumptions are theoretically sound: most democracies have express commitments to the freedom of speech and communication, and the United States has exceptionally strong legal immunities for Internet content providers, along with judicial protection of free speech rights that make it unique even among democracies. However, the conventional wisdom is not entirely correct. A country’s system of governance does not predict well how it will seek to regulate on-line material. And democracies, including the United States, engage in far more extensive censorship of Internet communication than is commonly believed.

This Article explores the gap between free speech rhetoric and practice by analyzing data recently released by Google that describes the official requests or demands to remove content made to the company by a government between 2010 and 2012. Controlling for Internet penetration and Google’s relative market share in each country, we examine international trends in the content removal demands. Specifically, we explore whether some countries have a propensity to use unenforceable requests or demands to remove content, and whether these types of extra-legal requests have increased over time. We also examine trends within content categories to reveal the differences in priorities among governments. For example, European Union governments more frequently seek to remove content for privacy reasons. More surprisingly, the United States government makes many more demands to remove content for defamation, even after controlling for population and Internet penetration.

The Article pays particular attention to government requests to remove content based upon claims regarding privacy, defamation, and copyright enforcement. We make use of more detailed data prepared specially for our study that shows an increase in privacy-related requests following the European Commission’s draft proposal to create a Right To Be Forgotten.