Google is the most used search engine in the world. The company serves nearly a whopping 3.5 billion searches per day. Undoubtedly, the search engine giant holds a lot of information — about companies, individual personalities, and almost everything. With so much data scattered on the internet, and Google regularly indexing it, it's probably inevitable that some of your personal information, including email address, phone number, or home address, can pop up in a Google search result.
Personal information being exposed on Google poses a lot of concerns. It not only leads to the invasion of privacy but can also present actual danger to individuals. Understandably, Google doesn't want this to happen to its users. The company recently took an action and announced that it would allow users to request to delete personal information from the search results.
While it has been possible to get information like banking details, credit card numbers, and medical records removed from Google, the company is now allowing users to have their contact details deleted from search results. "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," said Michelle Chang, Google’s global policy lead for search.
The procedure to get your personal information deleted from Google involves you submitting an official request to the company itself. Google says that it will review your request once you submit it. The review process involves evaluating all content on the web page that contains your personal information. However, the company will make sure that the deletion of your personal details doesn't hinder the availability of other information that is "broadly useful."
Google says that it will also evaluate if the information, that has been requested to be deleted, is a part of the public record on government websites or other public sources. For example, the phone numbers and/or email IDs of politicians won’t be deleted as it is a piece of public information that has to be publicly available on government websites.
With the recent change, Google will approve takedown requests if it includes any of the following information (via CNET). The company also states that it will not accept all the requests. If your request is successful, Google will let you know via email. If your request is unsuccessful, the company will brief you on why your request was denied.
- Personal contact information, including your email address, telephone number, and physical address.
- Content that can lead to identity theft, like credit card and bank account numbers or images of your signature.
- Details that pose a risk of hacking, like login IDs and passwords.
- Search results with nonconsensual explicit images or deep-fake pornography.
- Medical records and other confidential information.
- Pictures of minors.
- "Irrelevant pornography" tied to your name.
A similar policy is already in force in the European Union. In 2018, the EU passed the "right to be forgotten" as part of the broad General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As a part of the "right to be forgotten" law, European users can request Google to remove "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive" information from the search results. You can learn more about the "right to be forgotten" and how Google complies with it here.
Steps to remove personal contact details from Google Search
First up, head over to support.google.com/websearch. In the search bar, start typing "remove select personally identifiable info" and select the first option that appears.
On the web page that opens up, scroll down and select the Start removal request button.
It will take you to a new Google support web page with several gray rows. Here, under the section Have you contacted the site's website owner?, select No, I prefer not to.
A new section with the heading I want to remove will appear. On this screen, select Personal info, like ID numbers and private documents and then Contact information, like addresses, phone number, or email address. A form (shown below) will appear now.
Once the form appears, fill in all the details required. This includes filling in information like the URL of the web page on which your information appears, your name, email address, country of residence, the query term that shows the information, and others. Additionally, upload the screenshot of the web page as evidence.
Once you fill up everything required, click the tick box in front of the T&Cs box and then press Submit.
Once you click submit, a confirmation that a request has been sent to Google will appear on the screen. Additionally, you will also get an email from Google stating that your "request has been received".
You will now need to wait for Google's response — the company might (or might not) delete your contact details based on its evaluation. Rest assured, you will receive a response from Google saying if your request has been accepted or declined. Furthermore, if you want the exposed contact information to be removed from the website it appears on, you will need to contact the owner of the website separately.