What the Government Doesn’t Want You to See on Google

Data released by social media companies shows that the number of requests they receive from the Indian government to remove content or share user information is increasing every year. A Plain Facts article in July 2021 had documented the Twitter numbers, while this article looks at the data for Google.

Requests from the Indian government to remove content from various Google products nearly doubled in 2021 and hit an all-time high, according to Google’s biannual Transparency Report. In absolute number of applications, India was next only to Russia and South Korea. YouTube has been the main target over the years.


Requests to Facebook and Twitter have also increased, according to similar reports from them. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of information requests to Facebook almost doubled. On Twitter, the number of removal requests increased 7.6 times in 2020 and doubled again in the first half of 2021 compared to the corresponding period of 2020.

App action

Most of the Indian government’s removal requests to Google relate to content on YouTube. Between 2011 and 2015, removal requests for YouTube accounted for 33% of total requests. Between 2016 and 2021, this figure has increased to around 60%. The absolute number of content removal requests on YouTube has increased from 62 in 2011 to 1,670 in 2021.

Over the past two years, the second largest category of recipients of removal requests has been the Google Play Store. During this period, one of the retaliatory measures taken by India against Chinese acts of aggression on the border was the banning of Chinese apps. So far, India has banned more than 300 Chinese apps in four installments, starting from July 2020. In absolute terms, the number of content removal requests on Play Store has increased from 132 in 2020 to 1,684 in 2021, though it’s unclear how many of these were for these banned Chinese apps and how many were related to other apps.

Main reasons

Judging by the number of banned Chinese apps and the reasons for their removal, a large number of requests to Google’s App Store seem to be for other apps. In 2021, around 89% of government app removal requests to the Play Store were for spoofing. According to Google policies, impersonation refers to an app that misleads users into appearing as someone else’s product in terms of app icons, descriptions, titles, or elements integrated into the application.

In the past 11 calendar years, 2021 was the only year that spoofing was the #1 reason for content removal across all Google products. Otherwise, it was mostly “defamation”, which was cited as the reason for 26% of all requests made to Google between 2011 and 2021. Roughly three out of four defamation requests were related to content on YouTube . Other categories such as obscenity/nudity, privacy and security, and national security accounted for a small share.

sticky india

In 2021, Google released data related to content removal requests by governments in 99 countries. India was ranked third, after Russia and South Korea, with a 7% share. At 33,263, the total of requests made by the Russian government in 2021 was about nine times that of the Indian government.

In the 11 years that Google has published these reports, four countries have made the top 10 list each year. India is one of them, the others being Brazil, Turkey and the United States. There is a good amount of grip at the top. This comes from some countries with large populations (India, USA, Brazil and Russia) as well as developed countries with relatively smaller populations (France, Germany and UK). Among India’s neighbours, Pakistan has four mentions, while Bangladesh entered the list for the first time in 2021.

www.howindialives.com is a public data database and search engine.

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