Google is expanding its appeals process so you can request your personal information be removed from sites that may be displaying things like your address, your birthday, phone numbers, and more, or (a worst-case scenario) if someone is doxing you.
What is doxing? Doxxing is a form of cyberbullying that uses sensitive or secret information, statements, or records to harass, expose, financially harm, or exploit targeted individuals. You've heard the horror stories of kids posting taunts or someone blogging about another person, making false accusations about their character or beliefs. These can prove harmful not only to one's psyche, but also to one's career and personal relationships.
Google already had policies in place that let people remove personal information that had been shared maliciously, i.e. doxxing. The new policy change, however, requires less of a judgment call — instead of a Google employee having to look at the links submitted and somehow determine whether they’d cause harm, now Google will just have to decide whether the info is of public interest.
"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.”
How has this all come about?
Back in 2014 - remember 2014? No Covid, no war in Ukraine, no chip shortage? Anyway, The EU introduced its "Right To Be Forgotten" legislation, which gives individuals the legal right to ask search engines like Google to delist certain results from queries related to a person's name.
Google stated in response that search engines must now consider the information returned in a search in terms of accuracy, relevancy, if it is excessive, or even if there is a public need to keep the information public.
In 2018, the EU implemented the "General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which includes the right for internet users to "erasure" - providing even more control over harmful internet listings.
Here’s a list of what kinds of info Google may remove:
Confidential government identification (ID) numbers like U.S. Social Security Number, Argentine Single Tax Identification Number, etc.
Bank account numbers
Credit card numbers
Images of handwritten signatures
Images of ID docs
Highly personal, restricted, and official records, like medical records (used to read “Confidential personal medical records”)
Personal contact info (physical addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses)
Confidential login credentials
Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images,” pornographic deepfakes or Photoshops featuring your likeness, or links to sites with “exploitative removal practices
In Google's statement, they outlined the steps they will take when a user's request comes in:
"When we receive removal requests, we will evaluate all content on the web page to ensure that we’re not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, for instance in news articles. 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."
What This Means For You
We've all done it. We've searched our own name in Google to see what comes up. Sometimes, you find yourself thinking, "How did they get my email address from 5 years ago?" or "So that was my phone number when I lived in New York City. I'd forgotten."
Of course, you could find some damaging information like a past legal action or a defamatory post you made on social media.
Whatever the case, you can submit a request to Google to de-list this information and Google will assess the request.
Should Google remove the information you'd just as soon be forgotten, that doesn't mean it disappears from the internet. You would probably want to contact the hosting site directly, or get your lawyer to do so. Google is the largest search engine and usually the first place people go, but determined snoops may be able to use Bing, Duck Duck Go, or other search engines and find the ghosts in your closet.
So while Google is giving users a lot more control over their online info (perhaps not voluntarily as the EU is pushing for even more measures to protect privacy), it is adjusting its policies to stay in line with increasing user expectations and expanded regulatory trends.
How Do I Submit a Request?
Google has a Legal Help page that outlines all of the steps you need to follow when making a request, plus information on the limits affecting it.
In today's world, sometimes the less known about you, the better. It isn't a simple or guaranteed process, but one worth taking if your privacy, relationships, bank account, and career could be negatively affected.
Sources: Social Media Today, Google, The Verge, Engadget