Google has been pushing out a tool for removing personally identifiable information—or doxxing content—from its search results. It’s a notable step for a firm that has long resisted individual moderation of search content, outside of broadly harmful or copyright-violating material. But whether it works for you or not depends on many factors.
As with almost all Google features and products, you may not immediately have access to Google’s new removal process. If you do, though, you should be able to click the three dots next to a web search result (while signed in), or in a Google mobile app, to pull up “About this result.” Among the options you can click at the bottom of a pop-up are “Remove result.” Take note, though, that this button is much more intent than immediate action—Google suggests a response time of “a few days.”
Google’s blog post about this tool, updated in late September, notes that “Starting early next year,” you can request regular alerts for when your personal identifying information (PII) appears in new search results, allowing for quicker reporting and potential removal.
I took a trial run through the process by searching my name and a relatively recent address on Google, then reporting it. The result I reported was from a private company that, while putting on the appearance of only posting public or FOIA-obtained records, places those records next to links that send you to the site’s true owner, initiating a “background check” or other tracking services for a fee.
How a request removal works
I requested the removal of the site from Google’s results, noting that “It shows my personal contact info,” then verified exactly which information the site was showing. Google reported that it was reviewing my request, then emailed me a link where I could track that request and others. You can also request results removal, for yourself or on behalf of others, through a detailed removal request form.
Google identifies some “select personally identifiable info or doxxing content” you can ask to be removed from Google: confidential government ID numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, signatures, ID documents, medical and other highly personal records, contact information (address, phone, and email), and login credentials.
If Google approves your result for removal, it will do one of two things. It can remove the result entirely from its results, which it claims to do for ID, bank, credit card, and similar information. For other identifying details, Google can remove the result when used in searches that contain your name “or other such identifier.” This provides Google a means for making your details less searchable while still allowing content that is “of public interest or has content about other individuals.”
While it’s much easier now to request the removal of identifying information, whether Google will act or not depends on, of course, both the person reviewing the information and how it plays against Google’s identifying information removal policy.