A new neighbor moves in next door, you hire a new babysitter for your 2-year-old toddler, or you meet someone you like on a dating app: what’s the first thing you do? Google them. Digging into an individual’s personal life is that simple today. With more than 100,000,000 gigabytes worth of web pages indexed, Google is the unmistakable leader of search, overshadowing all other search engines with its dominance, whether on desktop or smartphones.
Google has become a valuable source for both individuals and organizations alike to retrieve information from the far corners of the internet. Employers use it to verify candidate details with background checks, landlords “Google” potential tenants to confirm identities before renting out their properties, and businesses research potential business partners before embarking on high-stake deals. For ordinary individuals, it serves as an excellent source to find out more about people around them to ensure personal safety.
The benefits of Google’s search prowess are undeniable. But there are moments when it could endanger your safety, too. This could happen when you become the subject of a Google search. But what are the risks, and how can you avoid them? Let’s explore further.
The costs of data trails
According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of American adults have access to the internet today. But even if you’ve been evading the digital world altogether, you will still have some form of passive digital footprint through your offline activities. And if you’re an active user, you will accumulate a massive digital data trail during your lifetime. Social media, account sign-ups, and regular daily activities such as online shopping and movie streamings will all contribute to this, both directly and indirectly.
This naturally allows Google to index more and more information about you. The result is often compromised privacy. It’ll allow anyone, from potential employers and landlords to those who are just downright curious, to access an incredible amount of personal details. Widely used data collection and sharing practices that cross ethical boundaries have made it increasingly difficult to limit data access to audiences you choose.
The consequences of this intrusion of privacy could become even graver when your personal information is freely available to criminals and racketeers. So, staying off Google’s radar would be a sensible decision for anyone concerned about data privacy and personal safety.
Removing yourself from Google’s SERPs
So, how can you get personal data off Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs)? The best solution is to have them deleted from the source itself. These are the websites that have published them. Remember, Google is not the data owner. It’s simply indexing what it finds on the internet, similar to a library that’s stocking books published by different authors. So, once information is taken off the original website, it will automatically disappear from Google’s search results too. If it doesn’t, you can ask Google to remove outdated cached data using this online form on Google Search Console.
Having said that, there will be plenty of instances when a site owner wouldn’t respond or may refuse to remove content. If you face such a situation, you can turn to Google for help.
Google will remove personal information from its search results based on several criteria.
- Explicit images and videos – You can report fake pornography and explicit material published without your consent, especially when the site owner refuses to respond.
- Content on websites with “exploitative removal practices” – These are sites that charge a removal fee to delete personal data from their pages. If they’re not a business review website, then you can inform Google with a removal request.
- Content that may result in identity theft or fraud – Google considers SSNs, bank and credit card numbers, medical records, and signatures as sensitive data that could potentially compromise your safety. So if they appear on a website, it will remove them from search results.
- Content used for doxxing – Doxxing is when someone publishes your personal details to intentionally cause you harm. If identifiable data is used alongside explicit or implicit threats, then inform Google by providing the page URL.
You can submit the above requests using this online Google form. In addition, if a particular content is violating your rights or applicable federal or state laws, you can forward your complaint using this form on Google Legal Help. But remember to share all requested details, such as your name, email address, page URLs, and screenshots. The more information Google has, the easier it would be to investigate and process your request.
What information will Google not remove?
Now, Google will not remove content that might be of public interest. These can include government records, career details, work contact numbers, and information on criminal activities and related allegations. For example, details about an individual’s criminal conduct could help others keep themselves and their families and organizations safe.
Is there a better option?
A more effective, permanent, and long-term solution to ensure your personal data is protected from Google is to minimize data sharing. After all, removing information from Google does not guarantee privacy. The content will continue to remain on its original web page, and there’s a high chance it will turn up on other search engines, too. Of course, you can submit data removal requests to other search engines, but you can’t prevent them from indexing similar pages again. This can happen when the publisher adds the respective piece of content to more pages. Ultimately, removing data could be a never-ending process.
So, the best option is to minimize information sharing. It doesn’t mean you should go into complete digital hibernation. It’s just a matter of practicing caution and evaluating the potential repercussions if the data you shared get into the wrong hands.