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You can now ask Google to take your personal data out of its search results

Google has expanded its policies to make it easier for people to request personal contact information be removed from online search results.
Google / Screenshot by NPR
Google has expanded its policies to make it easier for people to request personal contact information be removed from online search results.

Google is offering a new tool to anyone who doesn't want their phone number, email or street address and other personal information to be found online: People can ask for their contact details to be stripped from search results.

"The availability of personal contact information online can be jarring," said Michelle Chang, Google's global policy lead for search, as sherecently announced the change. She noted that the data could result in "unwanted direct contact or even physical harm."

The new policy sharply lowers Google's bar for removing data from search results. While it previously offered to scrub personal and financial information in cases of a real or potential threat — such as doxxing or identity theft — the company says people can now ask for their information to be removed even if there's no clear risk.

You can fill out a form to take your contact info out of search results

Anyone wanting to submit a removal request can use a special online form that walks users through the process. It asks for things like the URL of any webpages displaying your personal data, along with the search terms and URL of the Google search you used to find those pages. It also recommends including screenshots.

"It's important to remember that removing content from Google Search won't remove it from the internet, which is why you may wish to contact the hosting site directly, if you're comfortable doing so," Chang said.

Even with the changes, there are still a few reasons Google might deny a removal request. They mainly deal with information that is deemed "broadly useful" or part of the public record, such as newsworthy data or material that's posted to government sites or other official outlets.

Along with contact information, you can ask Google to remove results that include login credentials and other sensitive data.

Google also recently changed its policy on photos of minors

Google is expanding its policy around protecting personal information because users requested the change, Chang said. Noting the chance for malicious use of such data, she said the service is evolving along with the internet.

The new search policy comes six months after Google made another change to allow minors or their caregivers to request their images be removed from its search results. That shift came as Google and other tech companies faced criticism over their policies toward children and minors.

One of the largest early adjustments for Google's search tools came from Europe, where a Spanish man's case established the "right to be forgotten" in 2014. In the four years that followed, Google said, people made more than 650,000 requests to remove specific websites from its search results.

Editor's note: Google is among NPR's financial sponsors.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.