Want to disappear from search results? Just ask Google

Ethan Baron
The Mercury News

Google has just started accepting applications to have personal information such as phone numbers and physical and email addresses removed from search results.

The Mountain View digital-advertising and internet-search giant said in a recent blog post that it has broadened the scope of data people can ask to have taken down, because “with information popping up in unexpected places and being used in new ways … our policies and protections need to evolve.”

Previously, to consider removal of phone numbers and addresses, Google would require a person to show that such infor­mation was revealed alongside a threat or a call for the person to be hurt or harassed.

To apply to have information removed, people must use Google’s online form at https://

support.google.com/websearch/

troubleshooter/9685456 to send in URLs — webpage addresses — showing the content, and the company also asks for a URL of the search results showing the link to the content, plus screenshots of the content, to facilitate processing the request.

“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,” Michelle Chang, Google’s global policy lead for Search, said in the blog post.

Weighing importance: The company will deny requests if its review determines that taking down the page would limit availability of other information that is newsworthy or otherwise “broadly useful” to the public, or if the information appears in the public record on government or official websites, Google said.

The company’s policies also allow the removal of medical records and confidential data that could be used for identity theft or financial crimes, like log-in credentials, Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card numbers, and images of signatures and identification documents.

Removing the personal infor­mation will be done by ensuring the web page containing it does not appear in search results, Google said. In some cases, particularly when the information at issue is data such as bank account and credit card numbers, the page will be removed from results of any searches, while in other cases the page will not appear in results for searches containing the person’s name or another identifier.

“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,” Google cautioned in an explainer.