Google will now allow people to request the removal of their personal contact information like a phone number, email address, or physical address from Search results, the company said in a blog post published on April 27.
“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,” the company said.
With this change, the company has expanded the list of personally identifiable information that people can ask to be removed from Search. “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,” the company said.
These changes, however, do not set as high a bar as what EU’s GDPR and India’s Data Protection Bill prescribe under Right to be Forgotten. For example, in the EU, people can ask Google to delist results that portray them in a bad light and India’s Bill allows people to request the removal of information that is embarrassing. But until the Data Protection Bill becomes law, Indian citizens can only have content taken down from Search results by either approaching Google or getting a court order.
What personally identifiable information can users request Google to remove?
According to Google’s updated policy page, users can request the removal of the following personally identifiable information (PII) or doxxing-related information (items in bold are newly added):
- Confidential government identification (ID) numbers like U.S. Social Security Number, Argentine Single Tax Identification Number, Brazil Cadastro de pessoas Físicas, Korea Resident Registration Number, China Resident Identity Card, etc.
- Bank account numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Images of handwritten signatures
- Images of ID docs
- Highly personal, restricted, and official records, like medical records
- Personal contact info (physical addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses)
- Confidential login credentials
- Contact info is present.
- There’s the presence of:
- Explicit or implicit threats, or
- Explicit or implicit calls to action for others to harm or harass.
Users who wish to have their information removed under the above categories must submit a request to the company by providing the URLs which they wish to have blocked. Only those URLs submitted will be considered.
What are some caveats?
- Public interest content won’t be removed: Google will preserve access if the content is determined to be of public interest, which could be the case if the content is:
- Content on or from government and other official sources
- Newsworthy content
- Professionally-relevant content
- Content will not be removed from the internet, just from Search results: “It’s important to remember that removing content from Google Search won’t remove it from the internet,” Google said. “This means someone might still find the content on the page that hosts it, through social media, on other search engines, or other ways. This is why you may wish to contact the site’s webmaster and ask them to remove the content.”
What other information can people request Google to remove from Search results?
Apart from PII and doxxing content, Google’s existing policy allows people to request the removal of content under the following grounds as well:
- Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images from Google
- Involuntary fake pornography from Google
- Content about the user on sites with exploitative removal practices from Google
- Images of minors from Google search results
- Irrelevant pornography from Google search results for my name
What will be the future of content regulation in India?
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