Google can now remove search results that poison you

Google says it’s expanding the types of personal information it removes from search results to cover things like your physical address, phone number, and passwords. Previously, the feature mainly included information that could allow someone to steal your identity or money. Now you can ask Google to stop displaying certain URLs that point to information that could lead someone to your home or give them access to your accounts.

According to a blog post, Google is giving people the new options because “the Internet is always evolving” and the search engine that gives you your phone number or home address can be both shocking and dangerous. Here’s a list of what kind of information Google can remove, with the new additions in bold (h/t to the Wayback Machine to make the old list accessible):

  • Government Confidential Identification Numbers (ID), such as US Social Security Number, Argentine Single Tax Identification Number, etc.
  • Bank account numbers
  • credit card numbers
  • Images of handwritten signatures
  • Images of ID documents
  • Highly private, restricted, and official records, such as medical records (used to read “Confidential Personal Medical Records”)
  • Personal contact details (physical addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses)
  • Confidential Login Information

According to a support page, Google will also remove things such as “non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images”, pornographic deepfakes or Photoshops with your likeness, or links to sites with “exploitative removal practices”.

Submitting a request involves providing Google with a list of URLs that point to the personal information, as well as the search pages that bring up those links. After you submit a request, Google will review it. The FAQ says it tries to “maintain access to information if it is determined that the content is in the public interest”, such as in the case of content that is “newsworthy”, “professionally relevant” or that comes from a government. If Google decides that the links should be removed, it will say that they either don’t appear for each search or that they won’t show up for searches that contain your name.

Google seems to set a relatively high bar for what counts as personally identifiable information, which makes it a bit different from the systems it had to implement in places like the EU to comply with its so-called rules to be forgotten. Those laws allow people to request that links they find unflattering or irrelevant be removed, which isn’t the case here — the rules Google added today only cover links to highly sensitive information.

If you’ve ever searched for someone’s phone number, you may have stumbled upon a site that exists explicitly to sell people’s information, promising to give it to you if you subscribe. When asked if the new policy would apply to these types of sites, Google spokesperson Ned Adriance said: The edge that it would: “If we can verify that such links contain personally identifiable information, there is no other content on the web page that may be of public interest, and we receive a request to remove those URLs, we will do so, assuming that they meet our requirements set out on the help page — whether or not the information is behind a paywall,” he said in an email.

This page was easily accessible through a Google link and promises to provide my phone number and address. If it meets Google’s requirements, it counts.

Importantly, as Google notes on its support page and in its blog post, removing the information from Google Search didn’t erase it from the web. For example, if you ask Google to delete a forum post with your address in it, anyone who goes to that forum can see it; the message just shouldn’t show up when someone searches”[your name] home address.”

Update April 27, 5:05 PM ET: Added statement from Google on paywall info sites.

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