Google Search beefs up privacy

Photo (c) The Good Brigade - Getty Images

Families no longer have to worry about explicit images, either

Ever searched for yourself on Google? Find something you thought was posted with the intent to harm you? A photo of your signature? Your medical record?

Until now, there wasn't much you could do. But Google is following up on its Results about you tool – the one designed to make it easy for people to request the removal of search results that contain personal phone number, home address or email – and it's got step number two ready.

Now, the company says it’s “significantly updated and improved” the tool, enabling people to keep track of their personal contact information in Google Search and having Google ping them when it finds anything so they can have it removed.

“In the coming days, we’ll be rolling out a new dashboard that will let you know if web results with your contact information are showing up on Search,” Danielle Romain vice president of Trust at Google, said.

“Then, you can quickly request the removal of those results from Google — right in the tool. We’ll also notify you when new results from the web containing your contact info pop up in Search, to give you added peace of mind.”

How to access the tool

Google says people can access this tool in the Google app by clicking on their Google account photo and selecting “Results about you,” but when ConsumerAffairs tried that method, it was a dead end.

The better method we found was google/resultsaboutyou. ConsumerAffairs also found that the experience on mobile devices is different, too. Google provides a quick animation of what that process looks like, here.

From there, it’s a matter of clicking on the three dots next to the search results you want removed and filling out a simple request form. Google says it’ll take things from there, but with the tool barely out of the box, there’s no word on how long that will take.

What you can and can’t have removed

Google does have a lot of power, but it does have limitations on what it can and can’t remove from search results that contain personal information.

“The contact information displayed on the result has to be your personal, not professional, information,” is the company’s stance. “As Google Search seeks to provide users with useful info, it won’t remove info that’s valuable to the public.”

Personally identifiable information (PII) that people can request to have removed from Google Search results includes:

  • Confidential government identification (ID) numbers, like US Social Security Number
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Images of handwritten signatures
  • Images of ID docs
  • Highly personal, restricted, and official records, like medical records
  • Personal contact info (physical addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses)
  • Confidential login credentials

But if you’re listed in an obituary or a directory listing or a post about you from 30 years ago when you streaked the homecoming game, well, sorry, but you might have a problem.

As ConsumerAffairs understands it,  the search results must show your contact info “with an intent to harm you” or must “contain illegal info.”

Google does give that “intent to harm” caveat serious consideration, though. To request to remove professional information that’s been posted with that intent, all one has to do is use the detailed request form. 

Don’t like a social media post you’re in? Not Google’s problem. Nonetheless, if you want anything like that done, the company lists the steps necessary to make that happen.

To request to remove professional information that’s been posted with the intent to harm you, use the detailed request form. 

Families get more protection, too

One of the most daunting problems parents have in sitting their child down in front of a computer is all the who-knows-what that the child could encounter. If the child isn't careful, one mistyped keystroke or domain name version put put all sorts of explicit imagery like violent or adult graphic content right before their very eyes.

Google is updating that safeguard and those types of graphics will now be blurred by default when it appears in Search results. Of course, if you’re big enough to handle such, you can modify the settings SafeSearch blurring setting or turn it off at any time, unless a parent or someone at school has locked the setting.

Romain said the company is also making it easier to find parental controls directly in Search. “Just type in a relevant query like ‘google parental controls’ or ‘Google family link’ and you will see a box with information on how to manage your parental controls,” she instructed.

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