Being tracked online and having your personal data harvested has become commonplace. Every time we accept cookies, sign up for a service, or use an app, a little bit more of our information leaks away, and we invariably don’t know in whose hands it ends up.
Why are big companies keeping track? The simple answer is advertising. The more they know about you, the more targeted advertising can be. On a fundamental level, it’s why you’ll see adverts for phones if you’ve been researching new phones.
That said, much of the data companies collect is kept a closely guarded secret—otherwise, how can they monetize it? What is more concerning to many people is the host of personal information publicly available on the World Wide Web. The stuff that everyone can see. All those things that come up when you Google yourself.
Of course, prevention is the best cure, and not uploading information to the web is the best way to keep it private, but let’s be honest, we’ve all been doing it for years, and sometimes it’s through no fault of our own. So instead of kicking ourselves about that high school picture we posted on Myspace in 2005, let’s look at how to remove your personal information from Google easily.
How Does Google Make Money?
Before looking at how to remove information from Google, let’s think about why it’s there in the first place.
Around 70% of people reading this will be doing so on Google Chrome, meaning there’s a high chance you’re one of them! Did you pay for the browser? No. Just like we don’t pay to use Google’s search engine, which has a massive 92.05% market share. You can also get free email, cloud storage, and more. Why?
Because when you’re “given something for free,” you are paying with your data, and more data means more targeted ads and, of course, more revenue. Google makes a vast proportion of its money through advertising. More specifically, targeted advertisement, aka Google Adwords.
Simultaneously, Google needs to have people to advertise to, which is where all this public data gathering comes in. You go to Google to find things, which means they crawl the web to serve it up to you. Your personal information is a crucial part of this, allowing them to tailor ads to your profile and offer added value to the companies using the advertising platform. To Google, your personal information is just a tool, and for them, it’s more information listed, more sites indexed, more opportunities for advertisement. More importantly, it has nothing much to do with them.
How to Remove Content from a Site You Don’t Own
Remember, much of the content that you think of as being “on Google” isn’t on Google at all. Google is a search engine that indexes other sites, and it’s those sites that will be displaying your info.
Therefore, removing your personal information from Google means removing it from other websites. The situation is different in some specific cases, which we’ll get to later.
To start de-Googling yourself, there are a few steps to go through:
For websites, click into them and dig around for contact details. Get in touch directly with the site owners and ask them to either remove the information, remove the page that contains the data, or delist the site from Google’s indexing.
Now, wait. Once your personal information is removed from the websites, it will eventually be removed from Google. It just needs to be indexed again, at which point it will be deemed outdated content and disappear from the Google search. If you want to speed things along, you can put in a specific request.
To request that Google removes “outdated content from Google Search,” i.e., the personal information that you’ve had taken off sites you don’t own:
Click “New Request”.
Enter the URL of the page where your personal data was displayed.
Google will then do one of two things:
- If the page has been removed, you will be told: “Your request has been submitted,” and there will be a pending removal request.
- If the page/content still exists, then Google will ask you to verify that it is out of date by entering a word that “appears in the old version but is no longer in the live version.” If you’re removing your personal information, then this could be something like your name.
Once you have entered this, you will be given the same response as if the page no longer existed.
In addition to written information, Google also offers the same service for images, whereby you enter the Image URL and containing page URL or the “copy link address” URL from Image Search results.
How to Remove Sensitive Personal Information from Google if a Site Owner Doesn’t Comply
As mentioned, Google doesn’t deal with removing your information, they just reflect what exists on other sites. As such, if a website you don’t own refuses to remove something, there is often very little you can do. However, there are a number of specific sensitive pieces of information for which Google has processes. These are:
The first three follow a similar pattern. You fill in your details, verify that you have at least attempted to get the page owner to remove the content, and submit your request. The last is more aimed at exploitative or abusive content, imagery, or information, which goes in a separate form.
What Should I do if Negative Information About me Features in Google Search Results?
The first thing to determine when confronted with negative information about you in a Google search is whether it is legitimate. That doesn’t mean whether it is true, per se, but rather whether it is intended to be abusive through a practice like doxxing, or whether it is a bad review or comment.
If it is the latter, then you need to deal with it as you would with a complaint or comment in the real world. That is to say, diplomatically. These days, a business’s online reputation is incredibly important, so you should think carefully before snapping back or saying anything you might later regret.
How to Remove Your Personal Information from Other Google Products
Google is no longer just a search engine, and today it offers a whole host of other products. However, that means a whole host of other places that your personal information can pop up!
Remove your personal information from Google maps
Just like Google search, Maps takes information from across the web so your personal details can sometimes get mixed up in it. If you’re a business, it can be a great way to generate custom, so it’s worth changing your information so it’s correct. If you aren’t, you can report errors directly.
Remove your personal information from Google Groups
You can report shared personal info along with a number of other things through Google Groups support center.
Remove your personal information from YouTube
As with a website, if someone has uploaded your personal information in a video, the first port of call is to ask them to remove it. If this fails, you can go through the Privacy Complaint Process.
Remove your personal information from street view
Google Automatically blurs faces and license plates, but you can request that they blur your entire house, car, or body with their “report a problem” service.
When trying to delist your personal information from Google, there are three main things to do:
Don’t put information online in the first place.
Talk directly to site owners.
Let Google know as soon as changes are made for timely results.
In the case of more sensitive information, reach out to Google directly using the links above. Finally, it’s important to start paying attention to your privacy, and ask whether any other services you know might be spying on your data?