Visualizing Online Takedown Requests

The free flow of information defines the Internet. Innovations like Wikipedia and crowdsourcing owe their existence to and are powered by the resulting streams of knowledge and ideas. Indeed, more information means more choice, more freedom, and ultimately more power for the individual and society. But — citing reasons like defamation, national security, and copyright infringement — governments, corporations, and other organizations at times may regulate and restrict information online. By blocking or filtering sites, issuing court orders limiting access to information, enacting legislation or pressuring technology and communication companies, governments and other organizations aim to censor one of the most important means of free expression in the world. What does this mean and to what extent should attempts to censor online content be permitted?

Google’s Transparency Report, launched in 2010, offers a rich foundation to answer these questions. Among other information, the site includes data on the number of requests Google receives to remove content from its services. Google reports on two types of removal requests — those from governments and those from copyright holders. Requests from government agencies and courts around the world ask for information to be removed from Google’s services (e.g., Search, YouTube). Requests from copyright owners and reporting organizations ask that information be removed from Google’s services but data is only available for Google Search.

We challenge you to visualize the removal requests in Google’s Transparency Report. What in this data should be communicated to the general public? Are there any trends or patterns in types of requests that have been complied with? Have legal and policy environments shaped what information is available and/or restricted in different countries? The data set on government requests (~1 thousand rows) provides summaries broken down by country, Google product, and reason. The data set on copyright requests, however, is much larger (~1 million rows) and includes each individual request. Use one or both data sets, by themselves or with other open data sets. We’re excited to partner with Google for this challenge, and we’re offering $5,000 in prizes. 


And we encourage you to use additional data sets (as long as they’re open)!   


1st Prize: $3,250
2nd Prize: $1,250
3rd Prize: $500
Prizes provided by Google. 


Visualizations will be judged on the following criteria:

Understanding (10 Points): How effectively does the visualization communicate? How well does it help you make sense of this issue? 
Originality (5 Points): Are the approach and design innovative?
Style (5 Points): Is the visualization aesthetically compelling?  


The winning visualization: Google Online Takedown Requests Browser by Frontwise 

Read the recap to see the runners up and check out our gallery to see all of the entries.


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