Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine among internet users, placing itself well ahead of others like Bing and Yahoo. It’s catering to over 3.5 billion searches every day. And if that isn’t impressive enough, take a look at their market share—they command 92.18% of all search activities. It’s hardly a surprise considering how much it has seeped into daily life. Today, whether you want to know the nearest restaurant or even the weather outside, all you need to do is just ask Google.
The very word “Googling” has become a verb in many people’s vocabulary. Now, this dramatic popularity is exactly where the problem starts. Googling people, whether it’s a celebrity or a colleague you’ve met at work, has become common practice across all ages. It’s the simplest way to find out about anyone. Google indexes over 130 trillion online pages, and this number keeps rising each day. So, if there’s any piece of information somewhere deep in cyberspace, Google is guaranteed to find it as long as it’s indexed.
Of course, there are moments when this incredible search power will become useful. Say, you’re worried about a new neighbor who looks a tad shady. Or you want to know more about a new friend your 10-year-old had met online. In all these instances, Google’s search power could work miracles. But it also leaves very little room for privacy. When the entire world could intrude into your personal life with a click of a button, it could expose you to unimaginable dangers.
So, if you’re increasingly worried about online privacy, Google should be an important place to start. Remember, not everything that turns up on the internet is within your control to remove or edit. In times like that, here’s what you should do to keep your information off Google.
1. Ask Google
Yes, you can ask Google to remove certain types of personal content from their search results. But before we get into that, let’s first understand what it really means. When a website adds or updates a piece of content, whether it’s text, video, audio, or an image, Google crawls and indexes the webpage. Of course, site owners have the option to prevent this. But it hardly happens since the very reason for uploading content is to have it found.
Now, removing a piece of content from Google doesn’t mean it’s removed from the original website it’s published on. But most content is found through search engines. So, if it doesn’t appear on Google search results, chances of finding it evaporate pretty fast. This is why it’s important to ask Google to keep certain information off its data library.
And it will consider your request as long as the content falls into any of these categories.
- Images of explicit and non-consensual nature, including fake pornography.
- Content on exploitative websites, where data removal usually requires a payment to the website owner.
- Information that could put you at risk of financial fraud, identity theft, and the likes. These can include your SSN, medical records, and credit card and bank account numbers.
- Contact information shared with the intention to harm you.
- Obsolete content that’s already removed from a website, but still continues to appear on search results.
You can make an online removal request to Google by sharing a page link together with valid reasons. It will review your request and may remove the content within a few days. And if it doesn’t, there are still other measures you can take.
2. Ask the web publisher
The next obvious step is to put forward a request to the web publisher. Most websites provide an email address, phone number, or a message box to contact them. But it’s best to send an email wherever possible, so you have a copy of the communications for your records. Be polite and request for removal by detailing your reasons.
Now, keep in mind that there are different kinds of data publishers and collectors. They can include blog owners, news media publishers, and data aggregators like credit bureaus and people search sites. Some will be happy to remove the relevant content based on certain criteria, but others may not be so willing. So, brace yourself for whatever outcome. And if they agree to accommodate your request, then follow up to ensure it’s done.
Often, you may need to reach out to an overwhelming number of publishers and data collectors. In instances like these, you can hire a professional data removal service. These are experts who know the ins and outs of tackling web publishers and aggregators. So, they can handle the entire process smoothly and more efficiently. While they may not be able to make you completely disappear, they can likely help you remove your data footprint from many websites.
And once it is done, cross-check with Google search results to ensure there are no indexed pages. If not, you can make a separate request to the search engine with the links.
3. Go private
With certain web publishers like social media platforms, you will often get a private mode feature. This could prevent Google from displaying your personal profiles. Some websites like LinkedIn will even allow you to choose what content could appear publicly. So, go into your privacy settings to check what options are available and make use of them.
Protecting your privacy with Google
The sheer scale of Google has made it a necessary evil in the information age. But its benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. The reality is that it’s not really Google that’s compromising your data privacy and safety. Rather, it’s the greed fuelled by the many opportunities the search engine has created. For instance, organizations are misusing data for financial gain. Individuals are oversharing in search of status and validation. So, the best solution to stay off Google is perhaps to divulge as little as possible.