Alphabet Inc’s Google has started responding to user requests to remove search results containing their home addresses, phone numbers and email accounts, the latest shift in its stance between privacy and access to information .
The world’s most widely used Internet search tool said on Wednesday that the expansion of its removal policies globally has followed increasing user demand and changing standards regarding the threat posed by easy access to contact details.
“Research told us that there is a greater amount of personally identifiable information that users consider sensitive,” said Michelle Chang, head of global policy for Google Search, in an exclusive interview. “They are less and less willing to tolerate this content online.”
Until now, Google only accepted removal requests from web pages that shared contact information with some sort of threat or required payment for removal. It also removed links to bank account and credit card numbers and medical records.
It has received tens of thousands of requests per year in recent years, approving about 13% of them. Chang said she expected the approval rating to increase under the expanded rules, which also allow links to confidential login credentials to be removed.
Google’s old policies allowed for requests to remove results linking to unwanted pornography and, in Europe, “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive” personal information. Last year, Google began allowing photos of minors to be deleted.
Chang said that in weighing requests under the contact information policy, Google would aim to preserve the availability of data in the public interest. It also won’t remove information that “appears as part of the public record on government sites or official sources.”
The company said it usually processes requests within days.
Google Drops webpages can still be accessed through other search engines or directly, and Chang said users are encouraged to contact publishers to get “the root of the problem” solved.