Personal contact information such as your phone number, email or home address, can now be removed from Google search results.
Previously, individuals could remove links to contact information when it had been published maliciously – so-called “doxxing”.
Now people can request removal if it poses other risks, for example of “harmful direct contact”. Google warns that the information will still exist online.
“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,” Michelle Chang, Google’s global policy lead for search wrote, announcing the change.
However, websites – particularly those hosting stolen data – may not respond to requests for removal. Even if someone hosting data agrees to removal, personal information may also be discoverable on archived versions of web pages.
The information may also be hosted on websites that are designed not to appear in Google search results, but whose location is widely known by criminals.
Google already lets people request the removal of certain types of sensitive information, for example under-18s are able to ask for photos of themselves to be removed from Google’s image search results.
And it already allows users to remove select medical and financial records from search results, and contact information disclosed through “doxxing” accompanied by “explicit or implicit threats”. “Doxxing” refers to the release of private information about individuals online, usually with malicious intent.
However, the new update allows personal contact information to be removed if it “has potential to create significant risks of identity theft, financial fraud, harmful direct contact, or other specific harms”.
It is also adding confidential login credentials – passwords and usernames – to the range of content that may be removed. But it also warns that in some circumstances it may deny the request.
Michelle Chang wrote that Google would “ensure that we’re not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, for instance in news articles”.
She added: “We’ll also evaluate if the content appears as part of the public record on the sites of government or official sources. In such cases, we won’t make removals.”