Google announced Thursday that it will begin removing personal information like home addresses, emails and phone numbers in special circumstances, upon request. The company says the policy will help make information that causes “direct harm to people” less easily available.
“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 in a blog post.
Previously, Google would only remove information that risked a person’s financial security. This information included bank account numbers, credit card numbers, images of handwritten signatures, private official records like medical records and Social Security numbers. Today, Google expanded that definition to include information like a person’s home address, telephone number and emails, as well as images of ID documents and login credentials.
However, the updated policy doesn't mean users can quickly or easily have their information removed. Google will not remove web pages from search that include other information useful for the general public, the blog post says. It will also not remove information that is otherwise part of the public record. And removing items from search, the company cautions, does not mean information is removed from the internet. If people would like information to be removed from the webpage itself, they must contact the host site.
The new rules are still significantly narrower than what is required under the EU’s “right to be forgotten” law, which passed in 2014. The law says that Europeans can ask for most information about them to be stricken from search in a broad range of cases, such as if the information is being used for direct marketing purposes, or if the information is no longer necessary for the purpose it was gathered for. The GDPR added personal data to the list of information that people could have removed in 2018. But Google won a legal case in 2019 that means it only must obey these laws within the EU, not globally.Americans who would like to have their information removed can file a removal request on Google’s support site. The process requires them to list both direct URL links to the offending content and the Google search queries that were used to retrieve the results.