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How to Scrub Your Information From Google’s Search Results

Last edited: February 13, 2020
Reading time: 9 minutes, 8 seconds

Pencil erasing Google logo

Ever tried googling yourself? You can count on it that other people will look you up on the internet whenever they like. Think of your possible future employer the day before your job interview, or even your friends messing around, trying to find embarrassing pictures of you. Worldwide, 76% of all searches on desktop and 86% of the searches on mobile are done through Google. Google’s market share is huge compared to its competitors, making it the most important search engine in the world. Through it, people find all sorts of information – including information about you.

So what if Google shows webpages with old, incorrect or hurtful information about you in their search results? Likely, you want that information off the internet as quickly as possible. In some cases, Google can help you with this. But how do you handle that? What kind of personal information will Google delete? And how do you ask a gigantic company such as Google to stop showing search results containing your information? Those are the questions we’ll be tackling in this article.

How Do I Remove Information From Google?

If you’ve published certain information about yourself online, you can usually take it down yourself. To do this, you’ll have to go to the source: the web page or the account where you shared the info. This also goes for anything you’ve shared on social media. Simply delete unwanted messages, pictures and other content off the page or account. After a while, they’ll also disappear from Google’s search results. The information will no longer exist, so there’s no need to show it on Google anymore, either. Do keep in mind that it could take a couple of weeks for the search results to adjust themselves. Want Google to take your changes into account right away? You can fill in the form “Remove outdated content” to request they update and remove specific search results more quickly.

If you want to keep certain posts on your social media, but don’t want them to show up on Google, there’s another solution. Often, you can change the privacy settings of your account so your social media messages won’t show up in search results. Facebook, for example, allows you to make your entire profile invisible for search engines. This way, your boss won’t come across your personal Facebook posts when they google your name.

What If Someone Published Information About Me Online?

Did someone else post information about you that you want to be deleted? Your best bet is to ask the website’s owner (or the owner of the social media account) to delete the post or page. This also goes for those pictures of a drunk night with your friends, which they shared on social media. Simply ask your friends to take the pictures down or at least delete your tag.

If the person in charge of the website, page, or account doesn’t comply, you could always try to drown out the information by posting new content yourself. You could create new social media profiles and react on different fora, for example. If done the right way, your new input will be placed higher in Google’s search results, pushing the page you wish to disappear further and further down. While this option is far from ideal, it could work.

There’s another way, however. If you live in the European Union, you could also refer to the “Right to be Forgotten”, as part of the GDPR. More on this later.

Request for Removal with Google

GDPR on computer screenThe European Union introduced the Right to be Forgotten back in 2014. Among other things, this means search engines have to give their users the possibility to request the removal of personal information from the search results. For this purpose, Google has created a special page. The search engine evaluates all requests individually and will either accept or reject them.

You’ll quickly find out that, in many cases, Google won’t help you by removing search engine entries. Google’s search engine is a platform that supports a free internet and the unlimited sharing of information. Therefore, it won’t delete anything from its database, unless there’s a serious and legit reason for it. Before you request to have personal information deleted, you’re advised to contact the webmaster of the page you’re looking to delete.

There are several ways you can do this. Look for an email address or a Contact Us link, usually found at the bottom of the site’s homepage. If you can’t locate the administrator’s contact information on the actual website, Google suggests performing a WhoIs search to find the site owner. In Google, type whois www.website.com, and look for Registrant Email or Administrative Contact. If that fails, a final resort would be to contact the company that hosts the website in question. This hosting information is also available via a WhoIs query. If that doesn’t work, you can send a request to Google.

Sending a removal request to Google takes a bit of preparation. First of all, it’s important to decide what kind of information you wish to see removed. Google differs between personal information, information that’s against the law, and any other information.

Deleting personal information

Google is capable of deleting personal information from the search results. They’ll only do this, however, if that information “creates significant risks of identity theft, financial fraud, or other specific harms”. Your data won’t disappear from the search engine just because you ask for it. Google will only consider removing certain search results in specific cases, for example:

  • Unwanted and explicit personal images
  • Involuntary fake pornography
  • Content about you on sites wth exploitative removal practices
  • Select financial, medical and national ID information
  • ‘Doxing’ content (exposing content information with an intent to harm)

If you’re dealing with one of the cases above, or you’re in a similar situation, you can make a removal request. The form you need to fill in will ask you to explain your case.

Depending on the kind of information you wish to be removed, you’ll be asked to provide some personal information. For starters, enter your name and email address. You might also have to share the last four digits of your credit card or social security number, depending on the kind of personal information you want them to remove. Once you’ve added a link to the page containing the information as well as one to the Google search that shows that page, you’ll be able to send your request. Google will let you know whether they accept or deny it.

Google doesn’t just remove personal information that could cause harm when spread online. It also takes care of other kinds of content. However, removing such content tends to happen only for legal reasons. Is this the case for you? Then fill out this form. Click on “Web search” and choose the option that best describes your situation.

Deleting other kinds of information

When it comes to information that isn’t necessarily against the law, you can fill in the “Personal Information Removal Request form”. This form will allow you to share your concerns about a page you wish to have removed from the search results. After explaining exactly why you wish for it to be removed and how the information affects your person, you can send in your request.

Delete Information From Google with GDPR

It’s also possible to refer to the European law of data protection, as long as you live in the European Union. Be aware, however, that removing webpages from Google won’t make those webpages disappear from the internet altogether. They’ll still exist. The only thing Google can do is delete the entry so people won’t be able to find the URL through their services. If you want the information to be scrubbed off the internet completely, you’ll have to contact the webmaster.

What Kind of Data Does Google Remove?

While removing yourself from Facebook is quite simple, removing yourself from Google takes some work. It requires an actual Google employee to review your situation. Google has specific rules about which information they’ll remove for you and which they won’t. Usually, they consider the possible damage for the individual versus the greater good for the public space. This is why a bad review or opinion online won’t easily be deleted. While potentially hurtful for an individual, other people could be interested in reading this review in order to make a well-informed choice when buying goods or hiring a service. Here are Google’s guidelines when it comes to search result removals.

  • Pages containing images of (sexual) child abuse
  • Data about which Google has received a valid legal take down request that complies with the requirements of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Data Google might remove

  • Passport or social security numbers
  • Bank account or credit card numbers
  • An image of your signature
  • Explicit images that were uploaded without consent
  • Confidential personal medical records

It’s a good thing these things can be removed, because they can play a big part in cybercrimes like identity theft and revenge porn. To help the victims of such crimes, it’s detrimental for the information to be deleted from the search results.

Data Google Usually Doesn’t Remove

Unfortunately, Google explicitly states that they typically don’t honor requests to remove:

  • Dates of birth
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Data that can also be found (publicly) on official government websites

In this case, your best bet is to manually remove this information from the individual sites. Clear your profiles of personally identifiable information or delete your accounts entirely. To reiterate, if the information you wish to remove is on a website, getting it removed from Google will not make it disappear. It’s better to tackle the problem at the source.

Final Thoughts

Because of the Right to be Forgotten, which is part of European privacy law, it’s possible to step up to big international search engines like Google and ask them to remove certain information about you. Before you do this, however, it’s always wise to make sure whether you can’t remove this data yourself. Delete messages on your social media accounts and adjust any webpages you might have access to. If you can’t get rid of the information this way, ask the website’s owner to help you out. They should be able to delete any information about you on their pages. If this doesn’t help, you can fill in the appropriate form on Google to have the page deleted from the search results. The nature and source of the information you wish to delete determine which form you need to fill in. If Google accepts your request, the sensitive information will disappear from the search engine.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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