Google has expanded options for keeping personal information private from online searches.
The company said Friday it will let people request that more types of content such as personal contact information like phone numbers, emails and physical addresses be removed from search results.
The new policy also allows the removal of other information that may pose a risk for identity theft, such as confidential log-in credentials.
The company said in a statement that open access to information is vital, “but so is empowering people with the tools they need to protect themselves and keep their sensitive, personally identifiable information private.”
“Privacy and online safety go hand in hand. And when you’re using the internet, it’s important to have control over how your sensitive, personally identifiable information can be found," it said.
What Had Google Allowed Users to Remove From Search Results Already?
Google Search earlier had permitted people to request that highly personal content that could cause direct harm be removed. That includes information removed due to "doxxing" — uncovering and publicly exposing someone's personal information in an effort to cause harm — and personal details like bank account or credit card numbers that could be used for fraud.
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But information increasingly pops up in unexpected places and is used in new ways, so policies need to evolve, the company said.
Why Is Google Search Letting People Remove Results?
Having personal contact information openly available online can pose a threat and Google said it had received requests for the option to remove that content, too.
The company said that when it receives such requests it will study all the content on the web page to avoid limiting the availability of useful information or of content on the public record on government or other official websites.
“It’s important to remember that removing content from Google Search won’t remove it from the internet, which is why you may wish to contact the hosting site directly, if you’re comfortable doing so," it said.
How to Request Removing My Phone Number, Email, Or Other Info From Google Search?
Google has created a dedicated webpage and form that allow users to make requests for the removal.
First, visit that page, and make sure "Remove information you see in Google Search" is selected next to "What do you want to do?" Then, choose the location of the information, either in Google search results and live on a website, or just in search results.
If selecting just search results — meaning the content has already been removed from a website — the page description or cache could simply be outdated, Google says. This path will require just a few clicks and then entering the outdated URL for Google to remove it, the company says.
For information that is still live on a website, Google recommends first contacting the site's owner to get it fully removed from the internet, since blocking it from Google can still allow it to appear elsewhere on the internet. The company provides information and advice around contacting a webmaster to request editing a site.
Google also allows options to continue if you have already contacted a webmaster or would prefer not to. Choose whichever of these options applies, then select what you are trying to remove — for an email or phone number, it would be "Personal info, like ID numbers and private documents" — then make a more specific selection in the next list that appears.
Finally, Google provides a form to enter information about what it is being asked to remove and why.
Once a request is submitted, you should receive an automated email with a confirmation of the request.
Google notes that it won't automatically remove results, saying there should be an explicit or implicit threat of abuse for the request to be considered. The company on the form notes that it has "no legal obligation to act on this request."