Google now allows users to request removal of their phone numbers, physical addresses and email addresses from company search results.
The new policy aims to prevent malicious actors from using people’s sensitive information in malicious ways, such as identity theft or in-person harassment. “The internet is constantly changing, with information appearing in unexpected places and being used in new ways, so our policies and protections must evolve as well,” said Michelle Chang, Google’s global policy manager for search.
You can already ask Google to remove certain personally identifiable information from search results. But options were limited to national ID numbers, bank account and credit card numbers, and images of your personal signature and medical records. (Users can also ask Google to remove non-consensual nudes of themselves and deepfake porn.)
Wednesday’s announcement expands personally identifiable information to include “personal contact information,” including physical addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Additionally, you can ask Google to pull one of your login credentials from its search results.
Using the tool could help users protect themselves against hacks and identity theft schemes. You can initiate a deletion request by visiting Google’s support page on the subject, which will ask you for the URL containing the personally identifiable information. Users can submit up to 1,000 URLs on the form.
However, Google will not necessarily approve all requests. “When we receive removal requests, we will assess all web page content to ensure that we are not limiting the availability of other widely useful information, such as in news articles,” the company said. “We will also assess whether content appears as part of the public record on government or official source sites. In such cases, we will not perform removals.
If Google grants the request, it may decide to remove the URL containing the sensitive personal information from all search results. In other cases, it will only remove the URL from search queries that include your name. “This can happen when the policy violating information on a page is accompanied by content of public interest or content about other people,” Google added.
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It’s also important to note that Google can only remove content that appears in the company’s search results. The content itself will still exist on the hosting provider. Users should therefore first consider requesting the hosting provider to remove the information first.
“If the website owner has removed the information, it may be removed from Google Search as part of our regular update process,” the company said.
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