2 min

Google has released a tool that allows users to remove personal data from search engine results. It’s a significant move for the company, which has traditionally resisted individual control of search results outside of widely damaging or copyright-violating cases.

However, the tool’s effectiveness depends on a variety of circumstances. You may not have instant access to Google’s new removal method, as with practically other Google features and products.

Once you do, you should be able to access ‘About this result’ by clicking the three dots next to a web search result or in Google’s mobile app. ‘Remove result’ is one of the new options available at the bottom of the pop-up. Clicking the option leads to an interface that allows users to request the removal of personal data from the search result.

What does Google consider valid?

Google deems the following data to be valid for removal on request: classified¬†government ID numbers, banking information, bank cards, signatures, ID details, healthcare records, contact details — address, mobile, and email — and login information.

If Google authorizes the removal of your information, it will take one of two paths. In the case of ID, banking, credit card or similar information, the data will be completely deleted from the result. In the case of other identifying details, Google can remove the result when used in searches that contain your name “or other such identifiers”.

It might not be so easy

The first caveat Google notes in its blog post is whether the page where your information appears also contains additional information that is widely helpful, such as in news articles. For example, if your information pops up because a newspaper routinely reports on property transactions, Google is unlikely to remove that page.

This approach is practical, but it makes a lot of assumptions. The majority of the sites most susceptible to disclosing personally identifiable information on the internet will also have an aggressive removal process, maybe even suggesting or explicitly demanding money or memberships for “protection” services.