In a blog post this week, Google announced that it is rolling out a new set of privacy tools that will alert US users when their personal information, like their address, email address, or phone number, appears in online search results—and make it easier for them to request its removal. The search giant is also making it easier for people who have previously posted explicit images online to request their removal from its results too.
The new tools build on a few features that Google launched last year, including the Results About You dashboard. They’re all part of a softening in Google’s stance towards surfacing personal information in search results. Under previous policies, the only way to request that your personal information be removed was through a long and complex form. And even then, Google would only remove it if it had been shared with intent to do harm (or “dox” someone).
Under its current policies, Google will consider removing people’s personal information so long as it is not in the public interest. This includes things like their address, email, and phone number, but also other personal information such as images of ID documents, government ID numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, hand written signatures, and personal, restricted, and official records like medical records.
Once you’ve added your personal contact information to your Google account, it will automatically find websites that contain it and show them in your Results About You dashboard so you can review them. You can also enable push notifications so you can get alerted whenever your personal information is posted somewhere new.
If you want one of these results removed from search, all you have to do is select it from the Results About You dashboard and click Request to Remove.
Of course, this is no guarantee that Google will remove it. If the contact information is posted on a newspaper or government website, you will still have to fill in a long form explaining how it harms you. Similarly, Google may only remove the website from searches including your name, not from all searches.
The other caveat is that Google won’t remove contact information posted by accounts you control. For example, if you share your phone number on your Twitter (sorry, X) account, it’s up to you to login and remove the post. This could probably lead to some messy situations if you shared your personal information on an old forum or social media accounts that you no longer have access to, but that’s what that full content removal request form is for.
On the subject of those forms, in the same blog post, Google announced that it has “updated and simplified the forms you use to submit requests” for removing any kind of information from its search results.
The other big announcement was a change in how Google would handle explicit imagery removal requests from its search results. Now, instead of only removing non-consensual explicit imagery, the company also allows you to request the removal of any personal, explicit images you don’t want to appear in search results. The example it gives is that you can request an image or video be removed if you posted it to a website and then deleted it, but it is now being reposted or shared elsewhere without your approval.
The big caveat here is that this doesn’t apply to “content you are currently commercializing,” so adult creators will still have to rely on DMCA takedown requests if their content is being reposted without their permission.
The final thing Google announced was that explicit, adult, or graphic violent content would be blurred by default for users who don’t have SafeSearch on. It’s a small change, and the setting can be turned off, but it means searching for things like “injury” are less likely to show you something shocking.
While all of these changes are big steps towards giving people more control over how there personal details appear in search results, it’s important to stress that this only affects search results. Google can’t actually take down content posted to other websites. For example, if a blog post shares your home address, Google can stop it appearing when people search for you—but they can’t stop anyone from visiting the blog by typing its URL into their browser.