In the first half of 2022, over 53 million people were affected by data leakage and exposure in the US alone. Naturally, it’s no wonder Google is trying to improve its security standards and help people remove search results containing personal information.
But can Google remove results from search only, or does the flagged information disappear from the primary source?
Let’s dive deeper into the topic to find out.
What Is Doxing?
Doxing is a form of cyber harassment when someone publishes sensitive information online to harm you and your reputation. When personal data becomes public, anyone on the internet can find it and use it to steal a person’s identity, send threats, or misuse it in any other way.
Types of personally identifiable information:
- Full legal name
- Handwritten signatures
- Social Security Number
- Driver’s license
- Medical records
- Pictures or videos
- Financial information, including credit card numbers, financial statements, and payment histories
Is Doxing a Crime?
It’s no secret that millions of people suffer tremendously due to this cyber harassment. And, to make matters worse, there’s a fine line between doxing being a crime and a standard legal practice. Furthermore, if we look into the US legal system, doxing is illegal in California only and is punishable by imprisonment and a fine.
Photo illustration: Freepik
The Google Remove Results feature can help you take matters into your own hands, but doxing content can be challenging to remove. In most cases, the best-case scenario is to try to prevent it.
Can You Prevent Doxing?
With the new Google Remove Results feature, some may think they don’t need to implement safety practices to prevent doxing. Of course, in the ideal world, good cyber security would be enough to protect people from doxing.
Good security practices include: getting a VPN, installing antivirus software, and limiting the personal information we share online. In addition, changing passwords regularly and ensuring that your social media posts aren’t revealing any sensitive user information would improve your chances of maintaining online safety.
Furthermore, staying on top of trends and learning about Google’s updates and policies could help you minimize the damage in case of cyber harassment. For example, the newest Google Remove Results tool allows you to remove search results containing sensitive information about yourself. After all, if you can’t prevent the attack, it’s crucial to minimize the damage.
How to Remove Your Personal Information from Google?
In late September 2022, the most popular search engine started piloting a Google remove results feature that allows users to take down personal information that shows up on the search engine. This is big news for Google, as the doxing problem has caused a lot of trouble, especially in recent years.
Google claims its new tool is ”making it easier for you to remove results that contain your contact information” from the search engine. Additionally, “When you’re searching on Google and find results about you that contain your phone number, home address, or email address, you’ll be able to quickly request their removal from Google Search — right as you find them.” (Source: Google)
Google then states: "If we find the URLs are within the scope of our policies, the URLs will either be removed for all queries or be removed only from search results in which the query includes the complainant's name, or other provided identifiers, such as aliases."
Google Warns About Potential User Dissatisfaction
As the Google Remove Results button comes to life in Europe and the US, Google warns about potential user dissatisfaction with the tool. It states, “If the request doesn’t meet the requirements for removal, we’ll include a brief explanation. If your request is denied and later you have additional materials to support your case, you can re-submit your request.” (Source: Google)
It’s imperative to know that Google must approve the removal process before the information you’ve flagged as personal is taken down. More importantly, Google confirmed that “removing contact information from Google Search doesn’t remove it from the web, which is why you may wish to contact the hosting site directly if you’re comfortable doing so.” (Source: Google)
How Do I Protect My Information On Google?
One way to prevent doxing and avoid using the Google Remove Results button is to improve your account’s security. As your Google account contains personal information such as date of birth, phone or card number, and, in some cases, a location, those who manage to log into your account could publish it online.
The best way to secure your account is via two-step verification and regular app management. For example, removing account access to unessential apps is one of the first steps toward better security. Another option is to improve recovery options and ensure the software is up to date. And, of course, use strong and unique passwords for more excellent protection.
To sum it up, the best way to protect your information on Google is to:
- Remove account access to certain sketchy or rarely-used apps
- Use two-step verification
- Increase your password strength
- Keep your device software up to date
- Consider your recovery options
Is Google Remove Results Tool Helpful for Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management is a drastic measure of trying to manipulate the content on Google’s first page and control the narrative of a person or a brand. It usually consists of a few strategies, including:
- Reputation protection
- Monitoring of news and relevant content
- Crisis management
- Reputation recovery through drastic actions
For ordinary people, online reputation management could seem like a bizarre attempt to remove or hide specific information on Google. But protecting one’s sensitive information is of utmost importance in business.
The Google Remove Results feature can’t remove controversial information from the web. As a result, businesses and celebrities must either contact the website owner and ask them to remove the data or use SEO practices to generate better-ranking content. As the fresher content outranks the previously published articles with sensitive data, businesses push the unwanted information down Google’s rabbit hole.
With the Google Remove Results feature, online reputation management could be your last resort if you live in a state where doxing isn’t illegal. If the website owner decides your personal information should maintain on their website, outranking them in the search engine would prevent more people from accessing your information.
Next Step in Taking Control Over Personal Data
Although Google can’t remove personal information from a private website, the Google Remove Results tool will help users protect confidential data from online aggressors. Undeniably, this feature is the next step toward taking control over personally identifiable data and feeling safer when scouting on the information superhighway.
Still, Google, authorities, and other search engines, for that matter, have a long way to go before eliminating doxing and other forms of cyber harassment. Hopefully, Google will continue to work on improvements and make its search engine a safe place for all!