Google’s expanding its appeals process for the removal of search listings that include personal information, with users now able to request search index search omissions for web pages that list their address and contact info, among other potential identifiers.
As explained by Google:
“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.”
That could have a range of implications, for a range of sites, with some social networks potentially having to reassess their listings to ensure they comply with these new regulations.
Though they only become enforceable when raised by an individual, which means that there’s likely not a great deal of updates that would need to be implemented. But it could see some web pages removed from Google’s index if a case is brought to the search giant requesting action on such.
Google has long provided the capacity to request censorship of certain search listings, under certain criteria.
“On Google Search, we have a set of policies that allow people to request the removal of certain content from Search, with a focus on highly personal content that, if public, can cause direct harm to people.”
That process was introduced in response to Europe’s ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ legislation, which was implemented by the EU back in 2014, and gives individuals the legal right to ask search engines like Google to delist certain results for queries related to a person’s name.
As per Google:
“In deciding what to delist, search engines must consider if the information in question is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” and whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results.”
So if there are particularly damaging search results about you showing up, maybe a past legal case or a defamatory post, which could harm your personal or professional standing, you can request that it be removed, and Google will assess your submission against its de-listing criteria.
This was expanded further in 2018, when the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which includes a section that gives internet users a ‘right to erasure’, providing more control over harmful internet listings.
And now, it’s being expanded again:
“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. 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.”
That is an important element – hiding search results doesn’t erase the info from the web. While Google may be the biggest search engine, and a key point of discovery in many cases, people will still be able to find the original info, if they go looking.
It’s the latest step in Google’s gradually expanding data protection clauses, which also include its moves to phase out cookie tracking, and its more recent update to list how developers track and use data within Play Store listings.
Google also recently implemented a new policy which enables people under the age of 18 (or their parent or guardian) to request the removal of their images from Google Search results.
In combination, Google is giving users a lot more control over their online info – maybe not voluntarily, as there’s increasing pressure from officials (particularly in the EU) to implement more measures on this front. But its policies are evolving, in line with rising user expectation, and broader regulatory trends.
The implications, as noted, remain limited, as not many individuals are putting forward removal claims, but it is worth noting that this is now possible, and that some pages which display many people’s names or info could be impacted as a result.