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You can now stop Google from showing your personal information in its search results. Here's how.

Google will also remove 'nonconsensual explicit or intimate images,' pornographic deepfakes and links to sites with 'exploitative removal practices.'

You can now stop Google from showing your personal information in its search results. Here's how.
Cover Image Source: The Google corporate logo hangs outside the Google Germany offices on August 31, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Google is offering a new tool that expands the types of personal information that can be removed on request from search results to cover things like your physical address, phone number and passwords. "For many years, people have been able to request the removal of certain sensitive, personally identifiable information from Search — for example, in cases of doxxing, or information like bank account or credit card numbers that could be used for financial fraud," Michelle Chang, Google's global policy lead for search, wrote in an April 27 blog post announcing the change.



 

"Under this new policy expansion, people can now request removals of additional types of information when they find it in Search results, including personal contact information like a phone number, email address, or physical address. The policy also allows for the removal of additional information that may pose a risk for identity theft, such as confidential log-in credentials, when it appears in Search results," Chang added. "The availability of personal contact information online can be jarring—and it can be used in harmful ways, including for unwanted direct contact or even physical harm. And people have given us feedback that they would like the ability to remove this type of information from Search in some cases."



 

According to a support page, Google will also remove things like "non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images," pornographic deepfakes or Photoshops featuring your likeness, or links to sites with "exploitative removal practices." Prior to this newly announced change, Google's policies let people remove personal information that had been shared maliciously, an act commonly known as doxxing. While that required a Google employee to look at the links submitted and somehow determine whether they'd cause harm, the new policy change requires less of a judgment call as now Google need only determine whether the info is of public interest.



 

According to Google's FAQ section, the person tasked with the information removal request will determine whether the info in the link is "newsworthy," "professionally relevant" or whether it came from a government. According to NPR, those interested in submitting a removal request can use a special online form that walks users through the process by asking for things like the URL of any web pages displaying their personal data as well as the search terms and the URL of the Google search used to find those pages. It also recommends including screenshots.



 

"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," Chang said. "We're always looking for new ways to ensure our policies and built-in safeguards reflect peoples' evolving needs and are easy to use. For example, in addition to this update, we recently rolled out a new policy to enable people under the age of 18 (or their parent or guardian) to request the removal of their images from Google Search results."



 

"Maximizing access to information while empowering people to be in control of their sensitive, personally identifiable information is a critical balance to strike. We believe these updates are an important step to deliver on that goal and give people the tools they need to protect their safety and privacy online," she added. Meanwhile, Google still seems to be applying a relatively high bar for what counts as personally identifying information. The so-called right to be forgotten rules in the EU let people request that links they deem unflattering or irrelevant be taken down, but this isn't the case yet with Google in other parts of the world.



 

When asked if the new policy would apply to websites that exist explicitly to sell people's information, Google spokesperson Ned Adriance told The Verge that it would: "If we can verify that such links contain personally identifiable information, there is not other content on the webpage that may be of public interest, and we receive a request to remove those URLs, we will do so, assuming they meet our requirements outlined in the help page—whether or not the information is behind a paywall."

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