Is information about you appearing in Google searches that you would prefer not to show up? As long as that data is not in the public interest, it is possible that you could invoke the right to be forgotten to make those search results disappear. Even if your country does not currently enforce the right to be forgotten – Google's own policies may allow you to seek removal.
In this guide, we will describe the best ways to remove your information from Google. We will discuss when it is unlikely that you will be able to have your data removed by Google directly. Finally, we will look at some techniques for cleaning up your reputation on Google – when deleting search results isn't an option.
How to remove personal information from Google
There are two primary methods for removing your information from Google search results. In most cases, the best way to prevent your information from appearing in Google's search results does not actually involve contacting Google.
The important thing to remember is that Google only displays search results and information that exists elsewhere on the web. This means that most people should start by attempting to remove their information from the website or service where they actually appear.
Only after you attempt this, is it worth contacting Google to ask them to remove the search results.
Contact the website owner who published the information
If information about you and your past is appearing on a website or online service, it is likely that when you search for yourself this data will appear in Google. This can be frustrating if you no longer want this information to appear online.
The good news is that most of the time you can ask the owner of a website to remove this information about you. To do this, you will need to contact the website and explain that you want your information removed. Below we have listed some methods you can use to contact a website's owner:
- Use the 'Contact Us' link. Most websites have a 'Contact Us' link or email address where you can contact the site directly. This contact information is usually accessible either in the top navigation menu or in the footer of the website.
- Do a "Whois" search on Google to find the website's contact info. Anybody can perform a Whois ("who is") search on Google to find the owner of a site. To do this, head over to Google and type Whois followed by the URL (www.examplewebsite.com). You will find the email address for the site owner under Registrant Email or Administrative Contact.
- Contact the webmaster for the website's hosting company. If searching for a website owner directly doesn't work out, we recommend you contact the hosting company because they should have contact details for the website's owner. A Whois search result will usually include information about who hosts the website, so contact that company and ask them for a forwarding address.
What to do if the website is unwilling
If you have contacted a website to have your information removed, but the website is being stubborn, we recommend you keep trying. Being persistent (but polite) is often the best way to get what you want. However, it can be a long and arduous process, so don't give up!
The most important thing is to be extremely polite and to keep attempting to get through to the correct department, because not everybody working for a website has the authority to remove content.
By making a strong case for the removal of your content (by explaining that the content is false, harmful to your reputation, is making it hard to seek employment, or is emotionally traumatic for example) you will vastly increase your chances of having that content removed.
However, please remember it is not a good idea to threaten a website, as the perceived threat of legal action could actually draw out the process, and make it harder for you to get your content removed. So remain calm and ask nicely.
You agreed to Terms of Service
Unfortunately, some websites may not want to help with taking down your content. This is often because the website has specific Terms of Service that you agreed to when you uploaded that content.
These terms often transfer ownership of the uploaded content (such as an image, photo, video, blog post, or article) to the webmaster. Under these circumstances, it may be tricky to have the content removed.
In other instances, your name may appear in a news article or a blog that the publisher is unwilling to remove because they consider the information to remain of interest to the public.
On these occasions, you will need to contact Google to see whether you can invoke the right to be forgotten. However, if there is genuine public interest, Google may also refuse to conceal that information.
If a website is unwilling to take down your content, start by asking the website to explain why. If their reason is valid, you can try suggesting the following compromises:
- Ask them if they will block the unwanted content from being indexed by Google by using robots.txt
- Ask them to make your name anonymous on the content about you
- Offer to pay them to have the content removed
Is it legal for websites to keep displaying my information?
This depends on where you live and where the website bases itself, as this will influence the privacy regulations the website must comply with.
Even the right to be forgotten available to EU citizens does not apply in the US. This means that while Google may remove search results within Europe, people living in America can still freely access that information. Thus, the right to be forgotten is not global.
The good news is that because of consumer privacy regulations like GDPR (and similar laws being introduced elsewhere in the world such as California's CCPA) websites are becoming more and more cooperative when it comes to take down requests.
I'm in the EU – Can GDPR help?
Yes. If you live in the European Union (or the UK) your data is protected by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
This gives you the legal right to find out what data a company is holding about you and allows you to make a formal request to have that data erased. We have included a list of your most important GDPR rights below:
- To gain consent for data collection and to ensure there is a legal basis for retaining and processing your data
- To protect your personal data against misuse and secure against hacking
- To find out what is being held on file about you (right to be informed)
- To allow you to get a copy of any data being held on file about you (right to access)
- To allow you to update incorrect data (right to rectify)
- To allow you to limit the use of your data (right to restrict processing)
- To allow you to move your data (right to portability)
- To allow you to delete your data (right to erasure)
If you want to invoke your right to erasure, the best thing to do is to contact the website or service in question to make that request. If you aren't sure who to contact, use the Contact Us link or email address on the website to find out.
If a website has your data and is not allowing you to make a GDPR data request, you will need to file a complaint with your country's data protection authority.
The Right to be Forgotten
The Right to be Forgotten allows people living in the EU, Argentina, South Korea, and India (in some instances), to ask for search engines to stop displaying results about them that contain their personal information.
Search engines must comply, if they consider the data to be sensitive or harmful to the person making the request.
Google always considers the right to be forgotten on a case-by-case basis, and it has a team of people who decide those cases based on the information provided.
Google complies with search engine take down requests when the information appearing in its search results produces a significant risk of identity theft, financial fraud, and other specific harms.
Below we have included the kinds of data that Google removes from search engine results when asked:
- Non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images
- Involuntary fake pornography (deep fakes)
- Information about a data subject that appears on a site with "exploitative removal practices"
- Financial, medical, or national ID information
- Doxxing (the uploading of content with the desire to cause harm to an individual or their reputation)
- Content that is in breach of the law because of a DMCA copyright violation or for other reasons
If you believe that content about you currently appearing online fits into one of these categories, it is definitely worth contacting Google to find out if it will conceal those search results. To do so, contact Google here.
Alternatively, if you believe the content about you is breaking the law contact Google via this form.
Can I ask Google to remove content in the USA or elsewhere?
Although the USA and many other counties have not formally codified the right to be forgotten into their laws, there are some precedents that can allow you to have your information removed.
If you believe your data fits into Google's policy guidelines for take-down requests, it is worth contacting Google to ask it to remove your data from its search engine results.
Even though your county's laws do not require Google to remove your data, it possible that Google will remove the content anyway if it considers it abusive or harmful according to its own guidelines.
Beyond that, you may need to seek legal council to see if there are any precedents you can call on to have your data removed.
Why won't Google remove my information from search engines?
At times, Google may decide that the content about you has an informational value that outweighs your desire to have it removed.
In these cases, the law does not require Google to take down your search results, because it considers this to be censorship that is harmful to the general public's right to freedom of information and freedom of expression.
Under some circumstances, it is possible that Google may incorrectly reject a legitimate request to be forgotten. If you believe this has occurred, you may legally appeal to your local data protection authority.
How to improve your Google search results yourself
The first thing you can do is to update all your social media accounts so that they only contain information you wish to be seen. Remove any historical data and photos that you don't wish to appear online, and if you don't want the account to be visible at all, consider deleting the account completely.
You could also gain added privacy online through the tactic of adding noise. By uploading content to the web that is more recent and relevant, chances are that older (and potentially undesirable content) will slowly fall further down in the search results.
To use this method, rather than getting something about yourself deleted, the idea is to inundate the internet with posts and information about yourself that you don't mind being seen. This technique results in the older, unwanted data becoming lost in the noise.
To use this technique, you could, for example, start numerous social media accounts in your name and add information to them you don't mind people seeing.
These internet users make many decoy Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, Yelp, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google Plus account (and potentially other accounts too) to conceal real info and posts about themselves that they wish to be forgotten.
Alternatively, you can pay services like Abine Delete Me to improve your digital footprint on your behalf. These types of services contact data brokers and other companies that hold and display data about you online and methodically request for those services to delete your data.