As our culture continues to move online, personal information about us that previously may have only been seen by our friends and family is increasingly shared in public spaces on the internet. What can you do if you search for your name on Google and find information you’d rather keep private? Or find yourself or home in Google Street View and want it blurred? Read on for instructions on how to get it removed.
NOTE: If you want content removed from Google that’s located on a site that you do own, see Removing Pages from Google: A Comprehensive Guide for Content Owners for details.
Why Google Generally Won’t Remove Your Personal Information
Google’s core product, web search, simply indexes pages on the web and makes them available to searchers. Since Google doesn’t control the information on those pages, they will generally only remove them from their index if the site owner removes the pages from the site or uses standard methods of blocking the content from search engines. Exceptions to this exist, as described later in this article. Generally, you’ll need to first remove the information from the web (or work with the site owner to get it removed) and then ask Google to remove it. Read on to learn how this works too.
Google makes information available from more than web pages though. And different methods exist for requesting removal, depending on the type of content.
Keeping Private Information From Search Engines
Ideally, private information about you won’t show up in Google at all. To ensure this, keep in mind that anything you put online, including reviews, photos on sites like Flickr, posts on discussion forums, and anything on social networks, could end up in Google.
If you’re on social network such as Facebook or MySpace, you can generally customize your profile settings to keep the information private.
With Facebook, for instance, go to “Account > Privacy Settings.” You can then customize the settings from different aspects of your account, such as photos of you and your address. “Friends only” keeps them from being indexed by search engines. You can set the “basic directory information” to friends only as well, which keeps things such as your workplace and home town private. You can even keep your Facebook profile from showing up entirely in search engines by deselecting the “Enable public search” checkbox under “Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites > Public Search > Edit Settings.”
See the help information of each social network for details on how to do this.
Removing Content That Is Located On A Site You Don’t Own
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your private information ends up online. So, what if you find that a site you don’t own has content that you want removed? Except in rare situations, you can’t just ask Google to remove the content. Google indexes the web as it appears.
The first step is to contact the site owner and ask that the content be removed from the page or the page be removed from the web site or blocked from search engines. Once you have done this, Google will recrawl the page automatically as part of the normal indexing process and the content will no longer appear in search results once this happens. However, if you would like to speed up this process (as it can take some time for Google to recrawl the page), you can specifically request that Google remove the content from their index. Remember, you can only make this request once the content no longer exists on the web.
To speed up the removal process:
- Access Google’s public removal tool
- Choose “New removal request”
- Enter the URL of the page you’d like removed from Google.
- Then do one of the following:
If the site owner removed the page or blocked it from search engines, choose “Webmaster has already blocked the page” and select the checkbox that “says the page returns a 404/410, or has been blocked by robots.txt or a noindex meta tag:”
Google will check to ensure that the page no longer exists or is blocked and then remove it from search results.
If the site owner has modified the page so that it no longer includes your personal information, choose “Content has already been removed from the page.” Then enter a term that has been removed from the page:
Note that these terms not only have to be terms that were removed from the page, but they can’t appear elsewhere on the page. Google will check the page to see that the term longer exists on the page and then will remove their copy of the page in the index (called the cache) until they recrawl the page and update their index with the modified content).
Removing “Sensitive” Information From Google When The Site Owner Won’t Remove It
What can you do if you contact the site owner but can’t get the content removed from the site or you can’t contact the site owner at all? Unfortunately, in most cases, there’s not much you can do. However, for certain types of content, you can contact Google for further help getting it removed. The special cases are when the information is:
- A social security number of government ID number
- A bank account or credit card number
- An image of a handwritten signature
- A name or business that appears as part of adult content spam
Simply follow the instructions contained in the links above.
When Negative Information About You Appears In Google Results
What if you own a business and someone posts a negative comment on a review site that you don’t agree with? Or someone writes an article about you that shows you in a bad light? In situations like that, you generally can’t get the site owner to remove the content and as described above, you can’t ask Google to remove the information from their index.
One thing you should probably not do is post additional information that could just add more negative search results for your name. Google has published a blog post with tips on how to manage your reputation online that may be useful in a situation like this.
Removing Personal Information From Other Google Products
Google Phonebook: Google Phonebook uses third-party data to populate its listings. Results from Google Phonebook in web search results have a phone icon beside them:
You can request that Google not display your residential address and phone number listing from this data using the Google Phonebook Name Removal form. Note that your phone number may appear in Google search results even once it’s removed from Google Phonebook. The information may be coming from a web page (see “removing content from a site you don’t own” above”) or a Google Maps listing (see “removing content from Google Maps”, below.)
Google Maps: Google Maps also uses third-party data and sometimes inadvertently displays personal contact details in place of business details. If you are a verified business owner, you can correct this information. If information about a business you don’t own displays your personal contact information, you can edit the information directly or use the report a problem link to request the information be changed.
Blogger: Blogger is a blogging platform and as such, Google generally doesn’t remove content from it. However, you can request removal of content that violates Blogger’s terms of service. So for instance, if someone is impersonating you using your real name, you can request an investigation.
Google Groups: Google Groups is a discussion forum platform, and as such, Google generally doesn’t remove content from it.
Google Video & YouTube: Google Video and YouTube are video platforms that enables users to share content. Google generally doesn’t remove content owned by others, but you can request removal of copyrighted material or material that violates Google’s terms of service. You can also remove a video that you previously uploaded.
Google Street View: Google Street View shows photos of map-related data (such as streets and businesses) and generally includes homes, vehicles, and people. Google attempts to blur identifying details, such as faces and license plate numbers. You can request that photos of you, your home, and your car be removed completely as well. Simply go to Google maps and zoom into the area that contains the personal photo. Click the “report a problem” link and choose “privacy concerns, then a face, my house, or my car/a license plate.”
Remember, be sure to see Removing Pages From Google: A Comprehensive Guide For Content Owners, if you’re trying to remove content that’s on a site you do control.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.