Everyone has a different tolerance when it comes to online privacy – especially with personal information. Some people share every detail of their lives on social media while others strive to live under the radar. Whatever your preference, you may find information in places, such as a Google search result, that you don’t want there. It could be something simple, such as your home phone number or your physical address. Maybe someone posted a photo of your kids that you didn’t authorize. Or maybe someone shared a video of you out of spite. Whatever the reason, we’ll show you how to remove your personal information from Google’s search results.
Many people worry about online privacy
It’s no surprise that people worry about their private information. Many have fallen victim to phishing scams, identity theft, and/or credit card fraud. On top of that, there have been highly publicized breaches where personal information such as credit card numbers, contact information, medical records, and other personal details have been exposed. Some of these breaches have resulted in financial fraud or identity theft. So it’s no wonder that people worry about bad actors gaining access to their private information.
Legislation to protect online privacy
Both governments and companies have been taking action to crack down on what information companies collect, how they store it, and how it’s used. Just look at these examples that have caused a number of online businesses to change the way they handle privacy:
- California passed its California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018 and amended it in 2020 with the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).
- The European Union passed its own regulation, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Facebook was significantly impacted by an IOS update that allowed people to opt-out of being tracked.
Google recently announced a new tool that will make it easier to request that your information be removed from Google’s search results. This is promising because the existing process, while it works, is quite cumbersome.
Currently, the Google recommended way is to contact the website owner of the site that’s sharing your information and ask them to delete the content with your info. Once it’s off their site, Google will then remove it from its search the next time it crawls the site. However, identifying the owner of the site and obtaining their contact info can be a significant effort. And then you still need to convince them to remove the content.
How to remove your information from Google Search Results
Again, Google doesn’t own the internet. So if you find sensitive personal information such as social security numbers or tax IDs online, you’ll need to get the site owner to remove it. You may choose to work with a lawyer to determine if there are laws that protect your personal data. Data privacy laws can be at the federal, state, and local levels so check with an expert in Data Privacy.
Where search engines come into play is what they display in their search results. Each search engine is different, but Google is the most used, and others such as DuckDuckGo use Google search results.
Google can’t force a website owner to remove content from a web page. However, they can still remove the content from their own search results. This at least limits the traffic to these sites that are sharing your personal information. So the first step is to initiate a removal request. There are different forms you can use depending on the type of content that you need to be removed.
Here are some links to start a removal request:
- Remove content on sites with exploitative removal practices from Google Search Results
- Remove select personally identifiable information (PII) or doxxing content from Google Search Results
- Remove images of minors from Google Search Results
If you need to remove content from Google search, give these links a try. If you run into any issues or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Can you prevent your personal information from getting out there?
You can do things to protect your personal data, but it’s not all within your control. The first step is to limit what you share online. Some things to pay special attention to:
- Your social security number or Tax ID. This is required to file taxes, apply for jobs, apply for credit cards & loans, and other legitimate situations. If you can get away without having to share it, then don’t.
- Your date of birth. Sometimes this can be considered public record, so it’s hard to limit this. But unless it’s a legal requirement to share it, you shouldn’t
- Your physical address. Again, this can be public record so if someone wants it bad enough, they can find it. But you should omit it when possible.
- Your phone numbers. Unless you’ve always had an unlisted number, chances are your number is out there. If you own a business or need people to call you, give out your work phone number. If you don’t have a work number, get a free Google Voice number and use that to post online.
You can’t control what others do with your data. For example, your company’s payroll provider could get hacked. Or your bank could get hacked. So focus on what you can control by limiting what personal information is out there.
Bonus Tip: Removing Your Business Information From Google Maps:
There are a number of different Google Products that store your personal information. Google Maps will often include business listings. This service was formally known as “Google My Business” but is now called Google Business Profile. Many business owners find that their home address is showing up on Google Maps because it’s the address set in their Google Business Profile.
If you have access to your profile, you can go in and easily change the address. One thing to note is that you must use either an address or a service area. Your address should be the location where clients visit your business. So if you have a storefront or an office, you can use that location. If your business requires you to go onsite to your clients (such as a plumber or electrician), you can use a service area instead of an address. But that service area typically needs to be within a two-hour drive of your starting point. Not following these guidelines can get your business suspended, but that’s a topic for another post.
If you see your address on Google Maps and you haven’t claimed your business listing, you can claim it. There will be a link to claim it if it hasn’t already been claimed by someone else. If someone has already claimed it, Google has a process to help you request ownership.
If you have any questions about Google Business Profile, please feel free to contact us.