Google has announced that it is changing its policies to allow more types of personally identifiable information removal requests. 

Personal Information Showing Up In Google Search 

Google acknowledges that personally identifiable information of some users can and does show up in Google search queries. This can make users concerned, e.g. about how it could be used against them in harmful ways such as scams, hacking and fraud, unwanted direct contact, or even physical harm. This is why Google’s users can submit a request to Google that certain personally identifiable information is removed from Search. 

Removal Requests Limited To Certain Situations Before 

Although, for many years, users have been able to request the removal of certain sensitive, personally identifiable information from Google’s Search, it has only been allowed in certain cases, e.g. doxxing or where information like bank account or credit card numbers are visible that could be used for financial fraud. 

New Policy Expansion 

This new policy expansion by Google means that users can now request the removal of additional types of information when they find it in Search results. For example, users can now request the removal of personal contact information like a phone number, email address, or physical address. The policy also allows for the removal of additional information that may pose a risk for identity theft, such as confidential log-in credentials when it appears in Search results. 

Why The Change? 

Google says that this change in policy is in response to the fact that the internet is always evolving and with information popping up in unexpected places and being used in new ways, its policies and protections now need to evolve too.  

The policy change may also reflect the fact that GDPR, which is now well established, gives users the ‘right to be forgotten’, the UK’s Online Safety Bill is on the way to becoming law, and the tech industry in the U.S. has also come under increased regulatory scrutiny. For example, following a hearing by the US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security last October about kids and online safety, Google started allowing people under 18 (or their parents) to request the deletion of their photos from search results. Google also now allows requests from users for the removal from Google Search of non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images and involuntary fake pornography. 

The new policy changes will, therefore, bring Google further in line with these new laws designed to protect users and their privacy, and help it to avoid more regulatory scrutiny. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

An increased amount of scrutiny, the tightening of existing policy and the introduction of new regulations around privacy (and particularly the protection of children online) appear to be the drivers of Google’s new policy changes.

Businesses and organisations in the UK, for example, have had a legal responsibility for many years under GDPR (now UK GDPR) to give people the ‘right to be forgotten’. It may, therefore, seem only fair that Google, which has the power to cause great upset and harm (through what’s displayed in its search engine results) is now making it easier for people to request that certain information and images which could be used against them be removed.

Many users may have found it frustrating in the past to have to make requests that may not have been granted, with Google having the final say over certain information or images that a UK company would have been legally obliged to quickly remove. It is, of course, good news also that these recent policy changes could offer children and young people more protection. There is still, however, some way to go with more effort and investment and changes needed from the social media companies to make the Internet a much safer place for all. 

By Mike Knight

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