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Google Shutting Down Brazilian Orkut Communities at Government Request

Google Inc. (GOOG) said Wednesday that it has agreed to shut down some communities on its popular Orkut social networking site because the Brazilian government says they advocate violence and human rights violations.

Google agreed to shut down any sites that violate Orkut's terms of service, which forbid "any illegal or unauthorized purpose," after the company met Tuesday with a Brazilian human rights commission, which presented evidence that Brazilians have been using the invitation-only networking site to promote crimes and violence.

Orkut is extremely popular in Brazil with some 8 million users, representing about a quarter of all Brazilians who have access to the Internet.

In recent years, news reports have linked drug dealing operations and organized fights between soccer fans to Orkut communities. One community allegedly advocated killing the president and planting a bomb in Congress.

"Orkut does not condone any of the communities that advocate violence and are a threat to human rights," Nicole Wong, a Google attorney, said in a statement.

Brazilian Rep. Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh, a member of the congressional commission, said Google had agreed to remove six Web sites from Orkut and help police identify those who posted the pages as part of a preliminary accord.

"I am satisfied with progress of the agreement, but we only expect to reach a final agreement in 15 days," Greenhalgh said by telephone from Brasilia, the nation's capital.

He said in principle the agreement would require Google to hold user information for up to six months to provide time for Brazilian courts to issue subpoenas, if necessary.

Google would also be required to set up a Portuguese speaking team that was aware of Brazilian legislation to monitor the online community.

Google, however, did not confirm whether or not it would be handing over user data to the Brazilian government, and said it was still waiting Wednesday for Greenhalgh to provide a list of the questionable sites.

Greenhalgh said the list was sent by overnight mail and should arrive Thursday morning.

Determined to maintain the consumer loyalty that has helped fuel its success, Google has repeatedly stressed its commitment to protect its users' information within the bounds of local laws.

Earlier this year, Google fought a U.S. Justice Department subpoena seeking an extensive list of the search requests that people had been entering into its search engine.

Google argued the demands were an unnecessary intrusion that threatened to undermine the public's trust in the Internet, and a U.S. federal judge agreed. Although it didn't have to disclose search requests, Google was ordered to provide the government with the addresses of 50,000 Web sites in its search index.

When Google launched a search engine in China earlier this year, the company decided not to offer its e-mail service, to lessen the likelihood of facing a government subpoena seeking access to private messages.

Rival Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) has come under intense criticism for providing the Chinese government with personal e-mails that have contributed to the convictions of several journalists.