As concerns over internet privacy and online harassment continue to grow, Google last week announced that users now have a way to remove personal information such as their physical addresses, personal phone numbers and email addresses from its search engine results.
In a statement, Google said the changes were made so that users can protect themselves from “unwanted direct contact or even physical harm”.
Before the update, Google would only allow people to request that very specific kinds of confidential information, such as their Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, medical records and an image of their personal signature, be taken offline.
However, the company agrees that this is no longer enough. “The internet is always evolving—with information popping up in unexpected places and being used in new ways—so our policies and protections need to evolve too,” said Michelle Change, global policy lead for search at Google, in a blog post.
Users must follow several steps to request that their information be removed from Google Search results. First, they have to visit Google’s relevant support page to make their request. From that page, they must provide the website address page that includes the information they’re requesting to be removed from Google’s search results. After that, all they have to do is wait for an automated confirmation message that the page in question has indeed been removed from Google Search.
Google said that each request it receives will be reviewed manually and that it may reach out for additional information in cases where the request is unclear. Based on the information it receives, it may decided to remove the site address from all search queries, or just specific queries that include the person’s name and personal data.
Users should bear in mind that even if Google does decide to remove information from its search results, that information will still exist on the actual site it was published on.
Further, portions of public records, such as government files, won’t be removed from search results upon request. Users may need to contact a hosting site directly to ask for certain information to be removed.