Coding for democracy in Europe

It was an audacious task – write software that would increase democratic participation in Europe. At a time when polls show increasing public disenchantment with traditional European Union institutions, the latest and 4th edition of the EUhackathon focused on getting European citizens more involved in the EU policymaking progress.

A total of 41 coders from all over Europe participated this week in Brussels. In addition to Google, Facebook, ICANN and Netflix sponsored the event.

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, and Alexander De Croo, Belgian Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for the Digital Agenda, visited the coders at the Google Brussels office. Google Vice President and Internet evangelist (and “father” of the Internet) Vint Cerf, offered additional encouragement.

Belgian Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commissioner Andrus Ansip
Vint Cerf with Commissioner Ansip

After 30 hours of intense coding with only a single four-hour break, the jury heard presentations of the projects. The prize giving ceremony took place at the European Parliament – MEPs Julia Reda, Andrey Novakov, Brando Benifei, Eva Paunova and Marietje Schaake announced the winners:

  • First Prize: Team Videodock (the Netherlands), created a cool search for finding videos of parliamentary debates.
  • Second Prize: Team Commission Today (Romania/Germany/USA), created a transparency register of the meetings of the EU Commission.
  • Third Prize: Team Frontwise (the Netherlands),developed a tool to make easier to access to EU public consultations.
The winning Dutch team receives their prize

Posted by Marco Pancini, Senior Policy Counsel, Brussels Continua a leggere

The Internet and news: disruption or opportunity?

A great deal of debate has erupted about the Internet’s impact on news journalism – will it destroy quality journalism or will new business models emerge to save the industry? We long have argued that experimentation and innovation will help news thrive in the Internet era.

A report published this week by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that a consumers are increasingly engaging with news across a range of formats; and that the growth of tablet and mobile devices are having a positive effect on both news consumption and revenues. Google part funded the research.

The report surveyed consumption of news across nine countries. Points of interest include:

  • The growth of devices. The number of people using tablets to access news has doubled in the last 10 months in the countries covered in both last year’s and this year’s report. As people acquire more devices, they are spending more total time consuming news and accessing news more often throughout the day.   

  • Consumer willingness to pay. In most countries, willingness to pay for news is increasing. In the U.S., smartphone and tablet users are more likely to pay than other online news users. Across countries, 25–34 year olds are the most willing to pay for online news.

  • The strength of trusted news brands. While behaviour is not uniform across countries, there is strong indication that in the online world, consumers are moving towards brands they trust.

  • The rise of social media. For younger people, the survey found that social media had become the most prominent method of discovering news content.

The results provide welcome insight into the way access to and consumption of news is changing in the digital era. Google supports the industry’s efforts to experiment and innovate. Through products like Google Currents, Editors’ Picks, and our range of advertising tools, we are working with publishers to increase traffic, engagement and monetization on their sites. We look forward to doing even more to enable the digital transition.

Posted by Simon Morrison, Public Policy and Government Relations Manager, London
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Transparency Report: government removal requests rise

Three years ago when we launched the Transparency Report, we said we hoped it would shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe. Today, for the seventh time, we’re releasing new numbers showing requests from governments to remove content from our services. From July to December 2012, we received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content—an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that we received during the first half of 2012.

As we’ve gathered and released more data over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown. In more places than ever, we’ve been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates.

You can read more about these requests by looking at the annotations section of the Transparency Report. Of particular note were three occurrences that took place in the second half of 2012:

  • There was a sharp increase in requests from Brazil, where we received 697 requests to remove content from our platforms (of which 640 were court orders—meaning we received an average of 3.5 court orders per day during this time period), up from 191 during the first half of the year. The big reason for the spike was the municipal elections, which took place last fall. Nearly half of the total requests—316 to be exact—called for the removal of 756 pieces of content related to alleged violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates. We’re appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution.
  • Another place where we saw an increase was from Russia, where a new law took effect last fall. In the first half of 2012, we received six requests, the most we had ever received in any given six-month period from Russia. But in the second half of the year, we received 114 requests to remove content—107 of them citing this new law.
  • During this period, we received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos containing clips of the movie “Innocence of Muslims.” While the videos were within our Community Guidelines, we restricted videos from view in several countries in accordance with local law after receiving formal legal complaints. We also temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya due to the particularly difficult circumstances there.

We’ve also made a couple of improvements to the Transparency Report since our last update:

  • We’re now breaking down government requests about YouTube videos to clarify whether we removed videos in response to government requests for violating Community Guidelines, or whether we restricted videos from view due to local laws. You can see the details by scrolling to the bottom of each country-specific page.
  • We’ve also refreshed the look of the Traffic section, making it easier to see where and when disruptions have occurred to Google services. You can see a map where our services are currently disrupted; you can see a map of all known disruptions since 2009; and you can more easily navigate between time periods and regions.

The information we share on the Transparency Report is just a sliver of what happens on the Internet. But as we disclose more data and continue to expand it over time, we hope it helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online.

Posted by Susan Infantino, Legal Director
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