Google’s new search removal policy makes it possible to remove more of your information from their search results. The April 2022 change of their search removal policy is a rare bit of good news for privacy advocates.
Before this change, you could only ask Google to remove a very limited selection of your personal information from appearing in its search results. The data you could request the tech giant to take down was limited to anything that put you at immediate risk of becoming a victim of a financial crime or suffering identity theft. This included things like your credit card details or Social Security number.
Now, thanks to an expanded removal policy, you can send Google a request to stop showing searchers a wider range of information, including your:
- Personal contact information (email and physical addresses as well as phone numbers).
- Confidential login credentials.
- Images of identification documents.
This is a welcome development. However, there are still three critical issues with Google’s new removal policy for individuals concerned about their privacy.
Google Will Not Stop All of Your Information From Appearing In Search
Google’s reason for expanding its removal policy is to help reduce the risk of doxxing and other threats. In their blog post introducing the change to its policy, Google states it will stop information appearing in search if it “has potential to create […] harmful direct contact, or other specific harms.”
This means that Google will not hide information it deems to be in the public interest or available from publicly accessible sources. Information directly exposed through digitized public records, i.e., criminal cases, driving licenses, and voter records, will also not be suppressed on search results.
Google themselves will decide whether any information you ask them to hide from its search results is “professionally-relevant” or “newsworthy.” If it is, they will not stop it from showing up when people search for your name, no matter how many times you ask them to do so.
Removal Is a One Time Thing
One of the biggest problems with Google’s opt-out process is that it makes users do all the work of finding and documenting any and all of their at-risk information.
When asking Google to hide your personally identifiable information from search results, you need to specify every site where the information appears, share copies of your ID, notify Google whether there is “doxxing intent” or not, and disclose the search terms that bring up the information. This is not an easy process to do.
Many sites, including data brokers, constantly relist your information. To stop your information from appearing in search results for good, you might have to repeat this process multiple times.
Information Not Appearing In Google Search ≠ Information Removal
It’s critical to remember that Google hiding your information from its search results is not the same thing as your information being removed from the internet. All Google can do is stop your information from showing up when people use Google to search for it. They will not delete your personal data from the web in the first place.
This means that if your information is listed on a data broker website, individuals can still use the site’s search function to find it. The same is true for any personal information exposed on forums, social media sites, or other third-party sources.
What Needs to Happen Now
Companies like ours understand the difficulty of the opt-out process and help users affect opt-out requests at scale. We take the personal data profiles that our customers provide and automate the identification and removal of their information on third-party sites while at the same time continuously monitoring for its re-emergence.
We would hope Google and other search engines come to recognize our current role in the personal data removal ecosystem and process opt-out requests in bulk when recognized privacy service providers make them.
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