Google’s removal policy is not as straightforward as you may think.
Sometimes, Google may remove content with a simple request and an internal review; other times they may refuse to voluntarily remove the information and require a court order to force removal.
Depending on the content that you are seeking to remove from Google, you may need additional help from an internet expert or experienced privacy and internet-related attorneys.
Right off the bat, you need to identify where the information is located. Google results are typically an index of information found across the internet. While they will lead users to these websites, the information usually exists on the website outside of Google’s control.
Once you have the location identified, you can bring that information to Google’s attention so that they can decide whether it meets their policy for being included in Google search results or otherwise posting on Google-owned websites.
Keep in Mind:
Even if Google removes the site with personal information (or image) from Google search results, the information is still available on the hosted website. Removing information successfully from Google does not result in the content being removed from the internet. It can still be accessed by going directly to the website or possibly through other lesser-known search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo, or Ask.com.
While Google is the most popular method of searching the internet, it is also important to look across various platforms to ensure the harmful information is not appearing anywhere else. If you are unsure of how to do this, you should consult with a professional to help protect your reputation online.
Although Google has a policy for removal, they may determine your information should be located on their search results. When this happens, you may have no choice but to seek legal consultations of your legal rights and rights of privacy.
How to Make a Request for Removal:
Google requires specific steps in order to request the removal of content from its search engine. First, you must access Google’s form for removal. This form is found through the Google website’s help section. Once you have the form opened, you must select the reason for removal.
- First, you must tell Google whether you want to remove information already appearing in the Google search, or if you want to prevent information from appearing in the Google search. You may select the prevention option if there is specific information you believe someone will post on the internet with the hopes of appearing on Google search and causing you harm.
- Second, you must tell Google whether the information is in both Google’s search results and posted on a website, or if it is only appearing in Google’s search results. The reason Google needs to know this is to determine whether the information will continue to appear on the internet (which would mean Google’s indexing will potentially select it again, causing it to appear in the Google search again) or if it is information that is only appearing in Google’s search but does not exist on any website. This may include outdated information that is no longer relevant on the internet, however, Google’s search function still includes it in results.
- Third, you must tell Google whether you have contacted the website that the information appears. If you have not, you can not select an option asking for help in contacting that website’s owner. Google will provide some resources in order to help you find the owner of the website and request the information is removed, however, their interests may not align with yours. Consult with a professional if you do not feel comfortable contacting the owner of the website hosting your information.
- Finally, you must describe the type of information you want to be removed. Options include personal information, nude or sexually explicit items, content hosted by an exploitative website, or content that should be removed for other legal reasons.
Google’s Removal Policy:
How does Google determine what content should be removed from their search index? It should be obvious that very sensitive personal information will be removed from Google, such as bank account information, passwords, or illegal pornography. Google lists the following information subject to its removal policy:
- Government-issued Identification, which includes social security numbers, tax identification, citizenship identification, and passport information.
- Sensitive financial account information, which may lead to identity theft or fraud.
- Credit card information or online payment account information
- Images of your personal signature
- Non-consensual sexually explicit or nude photos, including but not limited to hidden camera photos, photos of underaged children, or personal sexual material taken without consent.
- The information posted on exploitative websites using blackmail and extortion tactics (see below)
Exploitation and Extortion Websites:
There are allegedly 25,000 reputation complaint sites on the web.
These exploitative websites use embarrassing information or images and use extortion tactics when removal is requested.
They may take information from publicly available sources, which include mundane information like home addresses or phone numbers, or they may include more harmful information, such as criminal records, mugshots, or lawsuit information.
When you request that they remove such information, they will only remove it in exchange for money, or in some extremely exploitative situations, they may seek explicit photos or other highly personal things. While Google’s policy is to remove these websites from their database, this does not mean that the information is taken down from the original website.
If you are the victim of such exploitative websites, you should immediately seek professional legal help to ensure that your rights are protected.
Personal Information Deemed “Not Harmful to Publish” – Public Records:
Unfortunately, Google does not remove all personal information by request. Instead, they have determined certain personal information is not harmful to publish and readily available by public records. The types of content Google will typically not remove include:
- Your personal or business address
- Your date of birth
- Your personal or business phone numbers
One exception to the removal of readily available information is to request that Google remove outdated content or information. For example, if you change your phone number and your new phone number is listed as being owned by its old owner, you may receive unwanted phone calls from people searching Google for the old owner. Notifying Google that the information in their search index will usually result in that information being removed.
Removal Policies Vary by Country and Local Laws:
Google’s removal policy is vastly different in the European Union. In 2014, the European Union’s Court of Justice made a law requiring Google to delete personal content in certain circumstances.
This ruling, dubbed the “Right to be Forgotten” law, requires Google to establish a process for EU citizens to list all websites that may be associated with their name through a Google index search. This is widely different from the laws of the United States, which do not directly address the policy of Google’s search and personal information.
Instead, citizens of the United States may request removal from Google, but it is entirely up to Google to determine their own policy as to removal.
If Google refuses, a United States citizen must take further action to force Google to remove the information from appearing in its search. This will typically require acquiring the help of a legal professional to start the legal process against Google and any other offenders on the internet.
Professional and Legal Help:
A skilled attorney will be able to review the content you want to be removed and advise whether the law will uphold your position for removal. To do so, it may need to violate criminal or civil protection.
These may include:
- consent laws (typically invoked for personal images or possibly pornography laws);
- defamation (typically invoked for protection against false information that has a negative impact on your personal or business reputations); or
- protective orders issued by another court (typically put in place for domestic violence or other violent crime victims to protect them from people who may harm them).
When is Google’s Removal Policy Not Enough?
What should you do if you cannot remove information from Google on your own?
Contacting an experienced law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of clients on the internet is an important step you should take in getting content removed from Google. While you may have never anticipated it would require legal intervention, it is not uncommon to use the court system to force Google to remove your information.
While Google is a huge company with deep pockets, they are still motivated by profit and financial success, so the hiring of an attorney may require them to use their own legal resources to defend their position for not removing your content from their website.
Depending on your situation, you may also need to seek the help of online reputation management professionals. These professionals specialize in monitoring and removing content from Google, in order to protect their client’s image and character. Many businesses employ specialists to do exactly this.
They search the internet, looking for harmful information to their brand, or monitor reviews of products and services. If you have a brand or image to uphold, it may be a good idea to contact a reputation management expert in order to ensure you are protected by harmful exposure online.